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Posts Tagged ‘dad’

People are weird.  (I’m sorry.  If you were expecting earth-shattering news, I don’t have that on offer today.  Check back tomorrow.)

I belong to a few writing groups, some in person, some online, and inevitably I rub someone the wrong way with what I write.  Usually it’s creepy ideas or characters of questionable moral values or alarming turns of event, but this time, it’s my profanity.

According to one early reader of a story I’m working on, the use of profanity is unprofessional and shows a lack of “writing skills.”  Huh.  Here and all this time I’d thought it was necessary in the service of making my character believable and realistic.

Normally, I value this reader’s opinion, but I was stunned that she held such deep-seated hatred for swear words, when I love them so much.  As though she’d blurted out, “I hate puppies!”

“Nobody has to swear,” my reader said, after she finished the first chapter.

Perhaps she’s right, but I suspect she’s never accidentally stabbed herself in the hand with a screwdriver.  That’s where I learned all my dirty words.  Truth.  When I was seven years old, my dad was changing the inner tubes on my bicycle, and he used a screwdriver to separate the tire from the rim.  He slipped and stabbed himself in the webbing between thumb and forefinger.  In the twenty seconds following that, with blood spurting onto my partially disassembled Huffy, Dad said every profanity in the English language.  I have never heard a dirty word that I didn’t hear that way.  It was a thorough education, both linguistically and in the business of blackmail.

After it was over and the bloodflow staunched, Dad said, “Don’t tell you mother what I said.”

“Can we have ice cream?” my sister said.

We got ice cream.  We did not ride our bikes for ice cream.  We drove.

As for the question of whether people have to swear…well, that’s a moot point.  People do swear.  Some of them rarely, some of them prodigiously and frequently.  Perhaps it was my misfortune to stumble upon a character who does, although the reader in question implied it was carelessness on my part, like losing both of one’s parents.  (Maybe my reader is a relative of Lady Bracknell.)

I looked at the chapter again, at the dialog in question, and I kept coming to the same conclusion.  If I were on death row, I would probably not be satisfied with using the word “jerks” to describe a former friend who testified against me.  That’s just me, and I don’t think it reveals a lack of education or a poor vocabulary–I do fine in those departments.   I think there’s a reason we have the word “motherfucker” in the English language.  It conveys a level of contempt and hatred that no other bon mot quite manages.

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My mother once apologized to me for giving birth to me in Oklahoma.  It was one of those moments when life imitates art, or at least life imitates a King of the Hill episode.  The one in which Hank Hill’s long-suffering mother apologizes to him for having gone into labor while in New York City.  It turns out that Texan of all Texans…not a Texan.  For Hank, the news is devastating.  For me, not so much.

My mother is a Kansan by birth, as is my father, as are their parents and their parents before them.  (With the exception of one streak of Coloradan running in my mother’s veins, courtesy of her great-grandfather, Coyote Monty Cook.)  My sisters are all Kansans.  My cousins are all Kansans.

I am an Okie.

It’s a shameful business, but I suppose her apology was as much about what had taken her to Oklahoma in the first place: my father.  Both things leave me in an awkward position of explaining my origins.  Obviously, not as awkward a position as say, Superman trying to explain the whole thing with Krypton.

All the same, I find myself saying things like, “Well, I’m an Okie, but I’m a Kansan.”  I was born in Oklahoma, spent my first few years in Oklahoma, and was raised almost on the border of Oklahoma, but I still think of myself as a Kansan.  It makes me a little sad on those occasions when I have to put down my place of birth, a reminder I’m not really a Kansan.  My passport is a slap in my face, declaring me to the world’s customs officers as an Okie.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Similarly, my father’s early defection from my life leaves me saying things like, “Well, my biologicial father is the convicted felon.  My dad was a Command Sargeant-Major in the Army.”  It makes for an interesting study in language.  Words that start out as synonyms shift as they acquire more subtle shades of meaning.

My dad, he’s a Kansan, too.

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