Inward vs. Outward Speech

The title of this post might not be clear as to what I’m talking about, but it’s something that’s important so let me explain.  There is a significant difference between how we should talk to/about ourselves vs how we talk to/about others.  I’m not just talking about different pronouns, so you don’t sound odd by referring to yourself in the third person, but I mean certain types of phrases and language.

This past week, in response to Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondence Dinner speech, there have been a lot of people outraged about how she spoke about “someone’s wife/daughter/mother” in regards to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  In response, a lot of people have pointed out (and this is hardly the first time) that whether you love her or hate her, Huckabee Sanders is her own person, and not an extension of other people, but that referring to her detaches her, and only sees her through the lens of those other people.  I tend to agree with this.

So, I thought about it, and in my own personal life, I do tend to think of myself as a husband, and a father, and a son.  Those are the roles that I’m most proud of in my life, and perhaps Sarah Huckabee Sanders feel about herself, a great amount of pride and definition in those roles, but that’s for her to decide, and not to be thrust upon her.

Let me give a different example to try to illustrate my point.  If you’re in a relationship, we’ll say 10 years that feels like a good solid number, and that relationship falls apart.  The absolute last thing that you want to hear, and the last thing people should tell you, is “everything happens for a reason.”  It’s not helpful, and honestly it feels cruel.  You need to go through all the emotions, and while it’s not intended as anything more than comfort, it’s never comforting.

Now, let’s take the same example, 10 years then break up, then 5 years, and you’re getting married to a new person, and life seems to be going great, and you think to yourself “everything happens for a reason.”  That’s a great outlook, and helps you to be at peace with the past.

The important thing in both the “wife/mother” and “everything happens” examples is perspective.  Not only the perspective of it being introspective vs being a throw-away platitude, but also the fact that one is an embracing of pride, or comfort, and the other is used to gloss over, and not really deal with the bigger issue.

Do I think most people who say these things are ill intention-ed?  No, probably not.  They’re just not interested in doing the harder more compassionate things (i.e. empathizing with Huckabee Sanders and not her children/husband/father, or listening and letting someone work through their emotions.)  It’s more emotional laziness, than callousness, but it should be corrected either way.

That Awkward Moment… When You Realize This Isn’t a Complete Thought

There is no shortage of irritating things in the world, or online, but I decided I wanted to talk about some of the things that irritate me.  These are mostly statements, that clearly require no thought, one person came up with each of these, and without thinking about what they’re saying many people have repeated them, and because I don’t honestly believe people are thinking about them as they say them, they drive me nuts.  (I can’t think of any that I do, but I’m sure I’m guilty of this too.)

The first is this dumb meme phrase “That Awkward Moment…”, you might be looking at it and thinking “what’s wrong with that, Mike?”  I have never seen one that is a complete thought.  It’s always “That Awkward moment when” followed by a thing happening or being realized, followed by no final thought.  A complete thought would be “That awkward moment when you thought you could wear your underwear two days in a row, and you get in a car accident and they see your dirty underwear.”  The internet’s version of that would be “That awkward moment when you thought you could wear dirty underwear two days in a row…” and everyone on earth except for me seems to be satisfied with that as a statement.  I may have shown you all that I’m a mother from the 40’s with that example, but you get the point.

Yesterday, was the Las Vegas shooting, and so all day yesterday and today, we’ve seen “Thoughts and Prayers.”  There have been a lot of people debating over whether or not sentiment is enough, and I don’t really want to engage in that.  What I want to say is, when we say anything about “thoughts and prayers,” are we actually?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people are doing it completely by rote memory, or unconsciously sharing “thoughts and prayers,” posts.  What I mean is beyond the couple of minutes in which it is being talked about specifically, are we thinking about it? Are we praying about it?  Sure, there are definitely those who are, people who are reflecting on it, and praying in privacy about these things, but what percentage of people saying it are doing it?  I don’t believe it’s 50%.  This one drives me crazy, largely because I think people aren’t really thinking about what they’re saying, when say “thoughts…”.  I know I probably sound nuts, but if you’re not going to think about it, or you’re not going to pray about it, just don’t say it.  I do actually pray about everything I tell people I’m going to pray about for them.  Whether it’s in my car, or lying in bed, or whatever.  I also reflect upon everything, and think about everything.  My brain replays conversations, and stories I heard from people months later.  If you tell me today that a grizzly bear gnawed on your leg when you were twelve, and that’s why you can’t watch Paddington, I’m going to think about that story, every time I see anything Paddington related… probably for years.

I’m really trying not to talk politically, but I’m going to talk about a couple of political catch-phrases that I think fit this ‘non-thinking’ culture.  The reason I think this is semi-safe ground to tread on, is that both sides of the political spectrum are pretty guilty of it.  We have phrases like “gun control,” “pro-life,” and “pro-choice” which really never mean the sum of their parts.  These ones tend to get picked apart, with people saying “gun control is hitting your target,” or calling self proclaimed “pro-life”rs “anti-choice.”  In these cases its the terminology people have called themselves which seems devoid of thought.  They’re not really trying to convey a message or a belief system, but come up with a shiny word pairing that seems illogical to disagree with.

In the political realm, there is also another set of thoughtless linguistic choices.  During the primaries last year, I heard a republican referred to as “too progressive.”  As in too in favor of progress?  This one tends to work in both directions too.  Progressive is a dirty word on one side, despite meaning in favor of progress, and conservative is a dirty word on the other side, but it means to conserve.  These are not necessarily opposing thoughts, in fact they can be very complimentary thoughts, but we don’t think about them that way.  “Conservative” or “Progressive” just mean “those guys over there.”  It reminds me a bit of a stand up routine that Aziz Ansari does in which he says anything can be a racial slur in the wrong tone of voice, and then he proceeds to call a member of the audience a “Kit-Kat” to prove his point.  Sure there are ideological differences on both sides, but can we stop co-opting words and turning them into hot-button labels.

These kinds of things are still somewhat new in their devolution, eventually they will turn into phrases like “I could care less,” where people “couldn’t care less” whether or not they’re even saying the phrases correctly.

As a final side note: I’m really trying to keep this blog from getting back into political discussion at all, but these issues that I talked about today, for me are more a matter of linguistics than politics, but I will continue to avoid meaningful political discussion on this blog.

Ode to ‘Fuck’

(This poem is originally from my book: Everything I’ve Got)

I

Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb;
Fuck in many forms.
Carlin opened my eyes, and showed its full potential.
A word so perfect, like a master key,
able to fit in anywhere.

     ‘Fuck Yeah!’
Verbalized adrenaline coursing out our mouths.
Heart pounding, pumping like a piston.

          ‘Fuck You!’
Venom spat from hate filled lips.
All but the target turns to white before your eyes.

     ‘We’re Fucked!’
The cry of the desperate falling off their tongues.
Realization. Defiance.

‘Fuck This!’
Throwing out another crumpled piece of paper.
Exhausted. Defeated.

          ‘Fuck Me!’
Passion exclaimed from shortened breaths.
Lips and limbs entangled.

Just
‘Fuck!’
Mind blank and simultaneously filled to the brim.
Nothing else to say.  Nothing else will do.

‘…Fucked Up!’
Did we? Or are we?
Often both.

          ‘What The Fuck?!’
Furrowed brow, red faced.

‘Fucking Great!’
No it’s not.

     ‘Unbe-FUCKING-lievable!’

II

Some fucked up quotes…

     “Those who mind don’t [fuck], and those who [fuck] don’t mind.”

     “[Fucking] is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”

     “That which does not [fuck] us makes us stronger.”

III

Not like the “N”-word, the “C”-word, or that other “F”-word.
Beautiful like a crimson sunset.
Vile as a maggot ridden corpse.
Flexible like an acrobat.
Strong like a steel beam.
Everything.
Nothing.
So… ‘Fuck off!’

My Ever Evolving Relationship with Words

I’ve written before, about how George Carlin largely influenced how I look at the English language, and more specifically at words.  Despite growing up in a society that continued to reinforce the fact that some words were better than others—or that some were bad— I didn’t believe it.  I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the ‘bad’ words, as Carlin had described them.

After a while, the ‘N-word’ became something that I had to think about.  It had been present in my life as long as I can remember, little kids having heard it and repeating it, rap music, distant family members, but at a certain age I had to think more about it.  It is arguably the closest thing to a ‘bad’ word that there is.  It had seemed context based for me for a long time, meaning that I thought if I didn’t intend harm that it was ok.  It felt like ‘being able to say it’ was a badge of honor.  Later I came to realize that the desire to have the right to use the word was immaturity, it was that look a small child gives you right before doing something they know is naughty, but in a teenager.  The ‘N-word’ became the first word that was on my personal ‘bad words list.’  It was clear that for me to use it was bad, pretty much regardless of context.

The ‘N-word’ has been a recognized bad word for a long time, longer than I’ve been alive, and so that wasn’t a cultural shift, but a personal one.  In my life however, around the time I was becoming an adult—at least in the eyes of the law—another word began to shift in its meaning. The word marriage, when I was a kid had been defined or at least understood as “the legally or formally recognized union of a man and woman,” but then Vermont and Massachusetts began legalizing ‘gay marriage.’  I didn’t get too hung up on the original definition but certainly others did.

After ‘gay marriage’ and then ‘marriage equality’ gained a significant amount of traction, I began finding myself engaging in a lot more conversations about the definition of marriage. As the discussions began, I found myself having to give a significant amount of thought to the definition, but the real epiphany came to me when I was getting married.

When you get married, you’ll find out that everyone has an opinion on how you need to do it, for some it’s a matter of doing it in a church, for others the father of the bride has to ‘give her away.’  As more and more people told me what the traditions were, I began to think about why those traditions were in place, the father ‘gives’ the bride away, because it used to be a business transaction, or a political partnership.  At this point, as I was thinking about this, my go to argument when Sarah and I didn’t want to follow some tradition was ‘well her father didn’t give me a parcel of land or any sheep.’ The institution of marriage—even if confined to one man and one woman—had changed its definition from its origin, and in a significant way.  So why was changing marriage from one man and one woman to two men, or two women any different?  This thought process began to fill in the gaps of the conclusion that my brain had jumped to years earlier.

A class that I took, talked about how language is ever evolving.  If the best spoken person of today, were to speak with the Founding Fathers, for example, they may sound uneducated.  Or if we didn’t have the communication technology that we currently have, modern day British English, and American English would be much less compatible.  This idea of language constantly evolving is one of those things that we all participate in, but seem to not like when someone else does—like when every generation claims the next one is the worst.  Change is scary and we all like to think our way is the right way, we like to think that our definitions and our words are the right ones.

Someone, hundreds of years ago, decided that the word fuck was bad, or lower class, or any number of other negative designations, and it bubbled through our society.  Ask someone why they don’t like the word fuck, and they probably can’t give an articulate answer, it will probably be along the lines of ‘because it’s a bad word.’  They won’t understand why, just that it always has been.  It’s not a real reason, but we don’t always have a reason for our feelings.

I’m thirty two years old, and in the last year or two, I have changed my opinion on the ‘bad’ words that George Carlin argued for.  I still think that there is nothing wrong with those words, but I am starting to understand that other people’s opinions count when it comes to them.  I try to not use those words in front of people who do not agree with them.  I’ve done a good job with certain people, I don’t think my father heard me say the word fuck until last week when he walked in as I was changing Logan’s diaper and he kept wrestling out of my grasp and crawling away naked—one of the most appropriate times to use the word.

Once Logan begins to talk, I will have no problem with him saying those words, and I don’t want him growing up thinking they’re bad, but I want to raise him to know that other people not liking them does matter.