I can swear. It’s not nice or pretty or necessarily called for, but in the heat of the moment I can drop a truck load of locked up bile that would rouse disappointed looks from a long line of long dead ancestors followed by a heated debate on exactly whose side of the family was at fault. Clean up the stream of unnecessary adjectives from one of my tirades and you’ll uncover a stream of insults tailored to point out every flaw, each one punctuated by a bit of spittle and ideally designed to send the victim scurrying for apologetic cover. Not me at my best, but a throwback to a time when I was bullied and learned that if the quiet orchestra girl unlocked this vitriolic spray, especially under her breath, people would back up. For example, the kids who told me if I rode the bus again they would kill me. In my defense, I needed to continue to ride the bus. I liked school.
Thankfully, I’m a “happy” person for the most part. The kind of person people drop by and say, “hey, I just needed to see that smile.” And also thankfully, my Mother taught me both manners and restraint (and how to sit up straight and chew with my mouth closed among many other useful party tricks). This keeps me in check and allows me to say “golly” and “good grief” in polite company (polite company being family, children and overly sensitive pets of the toy variety – let’s face it, a Mastiff isn’t going to blush at a misplaced f-bomb).
Where I’m Going With This
Saturday rolls around and I’m with a sketch writing gang, sitting around a table and doing table reads in a very public location. The first sketch out of the gate is a dream letter to a horrible parent written from the point of view of a very dignified school teacher who has finally reached her wits end. The letter was sprinkled with all the things you should never write in a letter from a teacher to a student’s parent unless your intent was to embark on a career of living off the good will of others. It really needed more, though. It needed to go to the proverbial “there” to heighten the humor. You see, the writer was a little restrained because she really works in this field and for the most part isn’t the sort that will go for the jugular. This is not to imply that she doesn’t get mad at times, I’m sure she does, but it’s framed in a more constructive light. She’s not the type to level relationships with a wrecking ball of rage filled contempt. That’s when I jokingly offered to help.
“Would you like me to teach you how to swear?”
She looked up hopefully and I swear the sun framed her with a little halo as the part of me that is my Mother whispered, “Yes, darling. Please regale us with that infamous mouth of yours. ” My throat became dry and my eyes darted around. There were children. They had balloons (I’m not kidding, they were handing out balloons). We were near a playscape. Lovely people surrounded us who were enjoying a beautiful day chatting with their equally lovely friends. “Go on, Beth. Let out that angry 14 year old.” I sputtered, “you could say uhhhh…” I blinked and stared as my mouth moved wordlessly up and down. Finally, another sketch writer came to the rescue and she offered up, “call the parent a c@#7”. OH MY! You can’t say the “c” word. That’s a no-no word. I looked around nervously to see if anyone else had heard. I was sure parents were fainting around us. Children were being grabbed up to begin what would turn into years of therapy. Of all the words, that’s a forbidden word – the word only the raciest of women say when they’re in one of those places I don’t frequent – like a gym or a wine bar (I kid, I’m sure they say much worse there).
Her eagerness to learn stunned me into actual silence and my well honed abilities were temporarily (and thankfully) castrated by the idea of unlocking a bit of my ugliness and sharing it. “Look at that face. Look at the halo. She’s an innocent. You can’t just swear at her. Why not go out and kill goodness while you’re at it, Potty Princess?” It occurred to me then that while swearing is one of my many skills that can never be formally listed on my résumé, it’s not something I can (nor should) pass along. So, I’m here to tell you that I will not be offering up a Swearing 101 class any time soon. You’ll just have to hang out at a gym or wine bar.
To quote the great Olympia Dukakis: “If you don’t have anything nice to say… come sit by me!”
I could teach her. But she really has to want to learn. First, it helps to have red lipstick, so you really announce that you’re a first rate Jezebel. Second, it helps to have a prop. I don’t smoke, but I carry around two packs of Machismo candy cigarettes just in case. A martini glass is also effective. And you don’t have to use the props forever, just until you get the hang of it.
I think you need to have a baseline cattiness and that special blend of indignation, ire and sense of being wronged along with a dash of anger management issues. Swearing has to come from the gut, otherwise it sounds like Mary Poppins accidentally forgot her uppers and let forth a little whoopsie poodle. If there’s not that willingness to verbally eviscerate, then people will just wince uncomfortably and say, “well now, someone’s had a bit too much eh?” I think I discovered that I can’t bring out my rage monster to come play – at least not with Mary Poppins. Disney would be very upset.
Just tell her to go hang out with kids 11-23 yrs. They’ll get her up to speed with their “ordinary” speech…teens’ job is to shock and offend.
Thank you! See, I’m thinking I need to steer her completely clear of that sort of behavior. After I offered somewhat in jest, I realized it was like offering to teach a dear sweet elderly aunt who was both part nun and part Disney princess to swear. What next? Would I offer to teach her to smoke and drink? Gamble? Bambi’s mom would certainly cry. and I can’t imagine the looks of disapproval from multiple generations of pious ancestors. I’m descended from Huguenots and Plymouth colonists; surely there would be some rolling over to show their great disappointment. I think I should only teach people how to gently pat, adore and appreciate soft critters and the environment, surely that’s a nobler thing to teach.
Now that’s something even a Disney Princess would be enriched knowing. (and wouldn’t want you to be visited by unhappy ghostly ancestors like in a Christmas Carol!)
Exactly, because the last guy is always the scariest. Not huge on chit-chats and all pointy while you’re left guessing at his ghoulish game of charades “ok, was that bad bad? or just kind of sorta bad?” No, no, you’re right – best to steer her along the path of “be kind to yourself and other things” – bigger payoff, fewer disapproving ghosts – plus, sometimes there are adorable songs sung by impossibly cute woodland creatures (I blame Disney for flights of fancy).
You made me laugh out loud – thank you. A woman after my own heart. There is nothing like a good swear. No matter how we develop our vocabulary and carefully select our chosen words sometimes there are only CERTAIN ones that fit the bill. You go girl. Maybe you could set up an online class for folk that are feart (prodounced fee-urt) – a Scottish word for afraid, of swearing. If you’re looking for help I’m in 😉
Fantastic idea! I can see spin off classes where we could offer up slang terms from our respective continents. Can we take these offerings abroad as an excuse to travel? I mean surely there’s an international need for our services? 🙂
Absolutely and surely our travel would be tax de-duct able, after all we will be offering an essential service! Lovely to hear from you.
You have reached another level of writing when you know when to use vulgarities and swear words. My first novel was read by my mother and she was appalled at my use of vulgar language and I kept telling her, it’s not me, mom, it’s the character! I don’t think she ever accepted the distinction, but it is very real and a writer needs to understand it. All joy in writing. HF
For me, when I’m writing a sketch I try to avoid using obscenities whenever possible. My thinking is that you can make people laugh out of pure shock – an easy laugh, but a better laugh comes when you’ve written something that doesn’t rely on shock.
How did everyone else receive your novel?
As always, it’s great to hear from you even if that knowledge sends me scurrying back to the piece to reproof it where I inevitably discover I failed to catch something and then I cringe a bit on the inside. In fact, I’m now under my desk and my co-workers are trying to cajole me out. 🙂
Proofreading is great fun! Enjoy it! As to my first book, I no longer promote it. I see it for what it was–a first effort that had some good, but too much bad. One day, I will write the perfect book and the whole world will know. Until then, an occasionally pat on the back for my blog will have to do. All joy. HF