Language, please

I never meant for this blog to become a series of vented frustrations, but here we are.

For what it’s worth, I hope to diversify my output in the future. If you’d like to read something here that’s nice, I still like my post about The Song of Bernadette. I hope to write more about other movies and books I’ve enjoyed, but right now I’m still making my way through The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. Somehow I doubt I’ll be reviewing it, because the scope of it is immense.

Onward.

Onward to the unrelated subject of grown adults with chronic potty-mouth syndrome.

As a child, I heard my mom say the “F-word” once, in anger, during an argument with my dad that I was eavesdropping on. Foul language was not a part of my early upbringing. I once chastised my aunt for saying the word “stupid.” At the time, the word “stupid” was just about the worst word I knew.

But it’s impossible to avoid hearing bad language unless you’re a completely sheltered individual. My brothers and I weren’t home schooled. We had television. We played video games. Eventually, we had internet access at home. My dad let us rent PG-13 movies much earlier than my mom would have preferred. If anyone else has had an experience wherein your mom overheard the line “Suck my white ass, ball!” while Happy Gilmore was playing, I’d love to hear from you. HOO BOY.

When I was 17, I said the “F-word” in front of my mom for the first time. I can’t remember what my punishment was–a severe grounding of some type, probably. I deserved it. My mom was and is a good mom for not tolerating that kind of disrespect.

On rare occasions I still use the “F-word” in moments of anger, though I’m working on eliminating it from my “casual conversation” vocabulary. In this blog, I’ve written “Suck my nuts” in anger, so I have no room to judge anyone else. Anyone who found this blog via tags or whatnot relating to my religious beliefs would perhaps consider it very hypocritical of me to cast stones at others for their use of foul language.

But I’m trying to practice some self-discipline now. I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this one about the other areas in which I’m trying to improve.

This attempt to curtail my use of profanities originally began in response to my environment at work. My coworkers use a lot of profanity in a way that is markedly different than what I’ve witnessed at previous jobs. The f-bomb is versatile as a part of speech and many people here delight in exploring its many uses. What the fuck? You fucker. Get fucked. And stop fucking bothering me, you fucking idiot.

I hate even writing that now! There was a time when I rolled my eyes at people who dared to suggest that the overuse of foul language makes one look stupid.

I’ve switched sides.

If I only had to hear those words when someone was pushed to their absolute limit–like the time I overheard my mom–I probably wouldn’t be writing this. Instead, I hear them all the time. The most common usage of the f-word that I hear is one applied during moments of minor frustration that I wouldn’t even categorize as anger. The other common usage I hear is one of emphasis, both good and bad.

That movie was so fucking good.

That movie fucking sucked.

Easy examples.

The most likely candidate for this type of language usage (based on my personal observations at work) is: youngish person, mid-twenties to late thirties. I can’t even recall hearing the same type of language from my coworkers past and present who were in their early twenties. Maybe their experiences with having strict parents are still very recent in their minds.

Almost any use of profanity is completely inappropriate in the workplace. It’s unprofessional. I’ll make an exception for any person whose job involves handling snakes.

I work in security, though. We sit on our butts all day doing close to nothing. When that’s what your job entails, and you get accustomed to a life of comfort, any minor inconvenience seems to be enough to justify the use of the f-word.

I hit my limit with a former coworker here who was incapable of expressing any thought without the use of profanity. The longer he was here, and the more he talked, the dumber he became. He went from being just another foul-mouthed individual to a person who no one trusted to act professionally in any situation.

The overuse of profanity in casual speech bothers me for many reasons.

If you and I are having a normal conversation, and you use profanity for no reason, understand that my perception is that you’re using the language of verbal assault. I don’t know why someone would intentionally want their choice of words to be similar to that of someone who engages in verbal assault.

Words have meaning and serve a purpose. I’m not anti-profanity, nor am I an advocate of censorship. If I’m working toward eliminating unnecessary profanities from my own speech, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to find a better way to express my thoughts. It’s also one of the most basic considerations I can make in my communications with others.

An older coworker of mine who rarely uses profanity has a favorite song that is known for its blistering use of profanity. When John Lennon sings a line like “…and you think you’re so clever and classless and free / but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” in “Working Class Hero” it has more impact and more meaning because he doesn’t use profanity as a crutch throughout the greater body of his work.

When you read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, your sense of propriety might be challenged, but your intelligence and sense of self-respect can remain intact. The use of fuck and cunt have a purpose, and that purpose is examined in the text itself if you don’t already find it self-evident.

I had a recent experience with a different coworker (featured here) who likes to pepper his everyday speech with profanities. He burst into the security dispatch office complaining about something or other, using his normal fuck-this and this-fucking-thing type of phraseology. At one point I tried to calm things down by saying “yikes,” to which he responded, “I’m not angry or anything.” Oh really? It was hard to tell.

I realized while writing this that my timid “yikes” overpowered all of his f-bombs.

When I was first hired on at my current job, many of my new coworkers tried to bring me up to speed concerning the who’s-who and the what’s-what of the job. Some of the information was helpful, but it quickly devolved into an exercise in advising me about who among our employees was terrible. I will never, ever forget the moment that one of my coworkers in security described one of the museum’s custodians as “subhuman.” For anyone who might be slow on the uptake, Untermensch became a favorite term of the Nazis, used in reference to the undesirable populations of people farther east: Jews, Slavs, Poles, and many others. Also please appreciate this callback to my current reading material.

Do I really have to keep reiterating how and why words matter? Would it depress you if I told you that my coworker who nonchalantly called another employee “subhuman” is currently enrolled in the creative writing program at a local university and plans to graduate soon? I suppose there’s a limit to what school can teach someone.

Works mentioned in post:
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy
Happy Gilmore, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler
“Working Class Hero” from Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

What do you want to do with your life? pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

I wish I could be in college right now, for the first time. I love a lot of things today that I had no clue about back when I was actually going through college. The first book I read after graduating was Middlemarch by George Eliot. I had always loved to read, and I thought I read a lot. But I really didn’t. I barely even knew what I liked to read. I can’t say I’d ever read a book before that was “life changing”. Middlemarch was revolutionary for me because when I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself: Is this the best book I’ve ever read? I think this is the best book I’ve ever read. Why have I never read this before? What the hell have I been doing?

This is my copy and I love it so much.

And I’ve spent the years since then hyper-focused on making up for all the reading I didn’t do back when I was in school. I always say that the one constant good about my job is that it affords me a lot of time to read.

I’ve learned so much in the process. Reading Tolstoy during a time when I felt spiritually lost was the catalyst for me renewing my faith in God. Who, in a time of spiritual crisis, could possibly be left unaffected by Levin’s story in Anna Karenina? Or Pierre’s in War & Peace? Resurrection was so bold and unapologetic in its didacticism and I felt so challenged by it that I was left with a greater sense of confidence in my convictions I had previously been ashamed of.

Russian literature became a focus of mine. I have yet to make peace with the fact that it was left out of my formal education almost entirely–“almost,” because we did read The Cherry Orchard once in high school. I guess that was sufficient? I could go on for ages (take this as a warning) about how depressing it is that American students are only really exposed to American and English literature during their high school years. We talk a lot about diversity in authorship these days, and how to make room for more women and ethnic minorities among the authors of standard “classics” normally touched upon in the high school curriculum. I don’t really care to get too involved in that debate. We’re failing at including female voices and black voices, without a doubt. It’s a major failure in the culture at large. Remember seeing that incredible breakdown on film dialogue? I’m sure the dialogue in today’s best-selling books would fare much better, but that isn’t necessarily reflected where authorship is concerned and how it’s addressed in the high school classroom.

I’m getting a little off-topic. The reason I don’t want to get too bogged down in that specific debate is because if I’m “speaking my truth,” I think of Americans’ fixation on America as just as large of a problem. Do we even care at all about the rest of the world? The less we engage with the artistic output of other countries, the more foreign they’re going to seem to us as people. Americans have no qualms about practicing cultural isolationism, even in institutions of higher education. When we study literature, we study our own literature. We create an echo chamber and then we’re delusional enough to award degrees in it.

In the years following college graduation, I’ve learned that I have no particular affection or preference for American literature, film, or art. I used to think I preferred it, but that was all I knew. It’s pretty easy to have a preference for something when you have nothing to compare it to.

I entered college thinking that I knew what I liked. My focus was always on the arts, so I’ll keep these remarks along those lines.

I had no clue how great a book could be because I’d never read much of anything outside of the texts assigned in school. I rarely watched films that weren’t American productions, or at the very least, films with English-speaking actors. And I thought I loved these things! They were critically acclaimed! I was having fun and getting “cultured”–L to the O to the L. When I first signed up for Netflix and was getting DVDs mailed to my house, I watched a new movie nearly every night. This was one of my passions.

When I entered college and declared as an English major, it didn’t last long for various reasons. See previous post.

I should probably be glad that I took a different path. I was friends with enough English majors to know that they didn’t get to read Middlemarch either, anyway–at least not in school. Is it too long or something? I don’t get it. Here’s a hot take: books you read in school should be difficult. You should feel challenged by them. Your teacher is not mean or evil just because they might make you read something that isn’t easy to digest. Just the other day I had to listen to my 70-something-year-old coworker rant about a book he was assigned to read for class. In his words, his professor is a stupid idiot for assigning it and shouldn’t be allowed to teach anything. Why? Because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness manner and my coworker thinks any book written in such a manner is garbage. God help his professor. It can’t be easy teaching a bunch of young adults who think they know everything, let alone a 70-year-old man who thinks he knows everything. Why even be in school at all? You know everything. Leave.

Maybe the books I enjoy now would’ve been lost on me when I was a teenager, or possibly even in college. It’s difficult to say for certain. I would love to have the chance again to study with intensity something that I love. I don’t mean to imply that college is wasted on young people. I do think that expecting any significant level of insight from young people whose brains are still developing is a Big Ask. And yet we expect them to know and decide what they want to do with their lives before they’ve ever really lived. If college were free, this would be no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ve actually gained any insight in regard to a future “dream” career. I was hoping to someday discover deep within myself some kind of passion for accounting that had been lying dormant all my life. Then I’d just go into the family business and I’d be set. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to make loads of money. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m one of those people, if indeed I am. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better than someone else would.

What I’m saying might contradict what we’re taught to believe about the American dream. Plenty have called it out as a bogus concept, often citing examples of how opportunities for success simply aren’t made available to everyone equally. It’s a good point, and I get it. I just want to question what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.

Being able to choose your own path in life regardless of your background is a relatively recent human invention. Sometimes I think true happiness would be easier to find if we weren’t seeking the answer in our choice of career. Your job is just one small part of you.

Right now I’m thinking of those faith-based organizations that preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” Here’s another hot take: they are gross and they should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re reading this and you think God not only cares how much money you make, but wants to actively help you make MORE, you’re gross. Close this tab, exit your browser window, throw your computer out the window along with yourself–whatever you have to do. You are gross. You are harming yourself and the people around you.

It’s easy to mock prosperity theology, and to tell its believers to off themselves, but I think a lot of us live by its principles without realizing it. We idolize money. We idolize people who have it. We’re taught to pursue it even if the pursuit of it destroys our soul. We refuse to be content with what we do have. We assign value to actions based on how lucrative they are. Just recently, I skipped a shift I was supposed to work at the Humane Society because it got in the way of me going to my new part-time job. The only reason was money. One pays me, the other doesn’t. Which one I actually enjoy doing more–that didn’t factor in at all. I’d rather be with the dogs (note to self: new epitaph idea). But I didn’t go because they don’t pay me to go.

It’s almost time to end this. I meant to talk about a lot of other things–mainly just movies and books I’ve loved. I can’t find an easy way to go back and add any of that in among what I’ve already written. I’m sure I’ll have other opportunities in future posts. This is getting long enough as it is. I’m at work right now, but I’d rather be with the dogs, if ya know what I mean.

The Song of Bernadette

Beginning this past summer, my boyfriend and I have spent many nights together watching movies, most of which are new to us while some are old favorites. We go a bit wild whenever the Criterion Collection movies are discounted by 50% at Barnes & Noble. Half-Price Books has also been a great source–up until recently I’ve only ever browsed for books there, but I’ve found some incredible movies there in these past few months. My favorite find so far has been The Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn. I cannot recommend it highly enough. After I first saw it, I believe I said: “This movie makes all of my other favorite movies look like trash.” I’m exaggerating a tad when I say that, but watch the movie if you haven’t and try to tell me it isn’t of a higher order than most movies.

Another movie I found at HPB was The Song of Bernadette starring Jennifer Jones. It has been sitting in our “to watch” pile for too long. Two nights ago we finally put it on. With our opposite schedules, it can be difficult to carve out the time for a movie over two hours long so we tend to save those for our shared days off.

The story of Bernadette Soubirous first entered my consciousness when I was about 8 years old and attending Catholic school. We would attend mass three days each week in the morning before classes began. Each mass would be “run” by students of a different class ranging from grades 1 through 8. We had two classes per grade, so every class of every grade would alternate throughout the year doing the readings during mass, bringing the offertory gifts, and singing in the choir. I was assigned to give a reading on the life of Bernadette Soubirous for what I assume was during the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Being the especially tightly-wound kid that I was, I practiced the reading for days on end until I had it memorized. I didn’t want to have to look down at the paper while I was reading it during mass. I thank my Mom for helping me practice. I have a memory of lying in bed at night, reciting the words from memory while my Mom stood by checking it against a copy of the reading.

Watching The Song of Bernadette caused many of these old memories to come back to me for the first time in a very long time. Most of the movie fell in line with what I remember about her story–the initial visitation, Bernadette’s successive pilgrimages to the grotto, the discovery of a fresh spring when Bernadette dug into the ground using her hands, the request to build a chapel on the holy ground, the revelation that the vision was of the “Immaculate Conception” (a term Bernadette was said to be unfamiliar with)–it was all to be found in the movie along with a vivid portrayal of Bernadette’s family and their struggles with poverty and Bernadette’s own fragile health.

From what I understand, the movie (and the book it’s based on) have embellished certain events for dramatic effect. The “antagonists” in the movie, represented by the prosecutor Dutour (played by Vincent Price) and his cronies, display not simply mere skepticism toward Bernadette’s story, but rather they condemn her outright and aim threats at her that include imprisonment of her and her family.

Hints at a never-to-be romantic relationship between Bernadette and a neighbor boy are included despite having no basis in reality (though they were indeed friends).

The figure in the movie who I found to be of great interest was that of Sister Marie-Therese Vauzou, who in the film is highly suspicious of Bernadette’s visions and whose condemnation of her rivals even that of the prosecutor’s. The film gives Sister Vauzou an incredibly powerful scene toward its end in which she laments her own treatment of Bernadette, recognizing that her skepticism arose from feelings of jealousy (among others). Vauzou, played by Gladys Cooper, is an unforgettable presence throughout the movie. The scene that finds her in church, begging for God’s forgiveness, is particularly moving. Many liberties were taken in this portrayal of her, because in reality she never got beyond her initial skepticism and even opposed Bernadette’s canonization (investigations for which were postponed until after the death of Sister Vauzou).

Despite some of these incongruities, the film is much more than a simple religious propaganda piece. I think it raises a lot of questions about our willingness to believe in certain things and what it is that holds us back from claiming certain beliefs for our own. Do you ever find yourself stuck in this line of thinking? “I don’t believe it, so I won’t believe it.” That sounds simplistic, but it makes me wonder what I’m cutting myself off from in life.

I had an experience once–one that gave me an overwhelming feeling of peace and security–and I knew in my heart that this feeling was coming from God, but because I was a committed non-believer at the time, I was unwilling to accept God as the source of this feeling. Maybe someday I’ll elaborate on the particulars of the experience (and don’t worry! no visions were involved), but today is not that day.

I’ll end this post with three recommendations:
The Song of Bernadette, directed by Henry King and starring Jennifer Jones
The Nun’s Story, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn
Mariette in Ecstasy, a short novel by Ron Hansen

About self-improvement

I guess I managed to make it to 30 without starting a personal blog. I’m told no one blogs anymore, so that’s appealing. I don’t necessarily want to foster any kind of community around this. Journaling in secret could help, but screaming into the void could also help. Blogging seemed like a midway point between the two.

I don’t know what I hope to get out of this. Maybe some cathartic sense of release. That desire might align somehow with the need for spiritual cleansing. I often find myself at a loss for how to express what I’m thinking. I have a problem where I equate self-expression with burdening other people. Kind of like, we’ve all got problems, why would anyone care about mine? That sort of thing–nothing you haven’t heard before. But I don’t want to put that on anyone. No one is being forced to read this, so right now I will absolve myself of that guilt.

~absolved~

I also wanted an outlet for my other nonsense. I like to read a lot, and reading is what got me started on this path back to God. So I guess I owe it…my SOUL. If you believe that. It’s fine not to.

Along with reading, I put a great value on the inherent potential in art of all kinds to serve as a portal to that which is intangible. When you read a book and get introduced to a thought for the first time, a thought that is new to you, you’ve been given a gift. This is so cornball, so thank you for staying with me. I want to resist the idea of holding onto all of my old thoughts out of pure stubbornness. I will instead stubbornly pursue new challenges to my old ways of thinking. I have plenty of old thoughts to work through and to reconcile with newer stuff. 

I do wish I’d made this attempt sooner.

This won’t be all doom and gloom, but when it is, I hope to give it 100%.