Swear Jar

I am not settled on my use of swears, but I think about the purpose and context of my written and spoken language. I’ll write on this again, as I’m thinking through.

Yesterday I wrote the word fuck in my post. Before publishing, I thought about finding another word or phrase, but fuck had the connotation I wanted.

I didn’t grow up in a blue household. I heard my parents swear only a few times. We didn’t even say dang, shoot or what the heck. When I was in third grade I swore about a failed spelling test and got grounded from the Brownie troop overnight trip. During adolescence, if I swore, it was under my breath, behind a closed door. Even in college when the wheels came off, I kept my mouth clean, a hallmark of good Christian living.

The first time I wrote a character who swore, I read the scene thinking my parents would be disappointed, and edited the F word.

The F word: effing, frick, friggin’, freaking. I don’t understand swear subs.

Here is where I am now: I use swears sometimes. I rarely say dammit, because I don’t want it damned. And my language toward or about people is affected by my belief in our inherent worth. But some situations remain shitty. When I titled a draft Comparison Shit, I called it that because saying stuff or junk connotes a yard sale or a drawer of pencil stubs and loose change. Shit gets to the point: a mess no one wants to examine closely.

I read the book of James often. Chapter three opens with a passage about taming the tongue. My emphasis added:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:1-12 ESV

I used to read that passage with a small mind, thinking the main reference was swears. There is more truth contained. I can start a fire without putting a quarter in the swear jar.

Essay Revision: Practiced Avoidance

I need to practice revising personal pieces.

But a few are so personal:
Contentment (as in: my plea for complete)

Some pieces read like first thoughts. When I read them, I feel where I was. And then I wonder where I am. I read some pieces and sense refinement bringing me a breath closer to holy. A year ago I wrote a piece called “To an Affair I Haven’t Had.” I read it now, to rework it, and know I was spared. I didn’t fuck up my marriage. I only wanted to.

I only wanted to. That is why returning to a few of these pieces is tough.

The other day I showed Justin my sunglasses, the inside lenses speckled with tiny tear drops. My car cries, I call them, when I turn the radio off on my commute home and wrestle through whatever lump is in my heart. Some of these pieces I want to revise might have been written last week, rather than a year ago, or two. I drive fast and cry about wanting what is wrong. I drive fast and pray to want what is right. To really want it.

I am not returning to these pieces to tidy my story. I write confessional pieces to remain confessional. I remember writing about lust and thinking, I am not the only person who has felt this. But I named it on a page. I see no reason to hide my sin. And I see no reason to hide my desperate faith. I have no shame in its desperation. If I lived in a cave, I might have a meditative faith, but I live in the middle of full days and my faith is worked out on car cries and in my pages.

When I return to some of those pages this month, I pray I go with compassion and honesty.

April Revision: Fiction

Three revised fiction pieces. This post features references to two BBC news stories. But the real selling point is that I’ll tell you about one of the worst stories I’ve written in the past year. That’s up first:

Two Girls Stolen: Working title, not working hard enough. And terrible piece, really. In the middle of writing this I thought there was a bit of brilliance to the characters and situations. I thought the story was fantastic! It isn’t. I know, because I just trudged through a chop chop chop kind of revision and still ended up with a Jodi Picoult* wannabe. You tell me if it’s something Jodi Picoult would write, if she were sitting at a stoplight, listening to a BBC news bulletin about two kids found in the Roma community, guessed to be missing British children:

That’s it. Really. Except I made the two girls from Wisconsin, gave them to a child trafficking ring before they were brought home by foster parents who realized their foster kids were actually missing children; and then I stayed with the families for another decade, sussing the emotional wringing of reuniting with family but missing foster parents and and and. It is a really bad piece.

But when I wrote it, oh, I thought I was on to something. Give points to waiting a month or two or three before revising: you see the junk. I revised to see if I could salvage anything. I can think of only one way this piece might be salvageable. I’ll let you know when I play around.

Jake: I like not naming my fiction. This piece is a shout-out to another BBC interview I heard. The reporter was speaking with a man who’d helped rescue people during the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi; the reporter asked this man if he thought of himself as a hero. Of course, the man answered no.

What else could he have said? I put a note in my phone: Can a hero admit they are a hero? And then I stumbled my way around, finding a character named Jake, his time and place. Jake is a muralist who comes to Kuwait to paint, gets caught in an attack, helps rescue, admits he is a hero, and gets slammed. This was as far as I’d gotten when I began revising the piece. I revised, hoping an ending would come to me. It did: I took a creative George Saunders-ish leap and then made my husband read the whole thing. He liked it.

David: I need some new boy names. Seriously. I wrote this piece nearly three years ago. David is a young soldier serving in Iraq. Near the end of his first tour, he knows he will die during his second. I remember sitting at my in-laws’ kitchen table typing my way to an end. When I was done, the whole thing was forty single-spaced pages. Because I dream about publishing a book, I was vain enough to reformat the piece into two-column landscape and got around seventy book pages. Ish.

But a third of the way to novel length or not, most of David had to go.

I avoided the piece for a long time. I’d open the file or remember a couple promising scenes, but not until this month did I make myself revise. I read through first, without touching. Then I thought I might die at the amount of work ahead. I swept my cursor down the entire first two pages and deleted. Felt better. I cut entire subplots. I tightened sentences. I changed the direction of one relationship. I changed the ending.

The piece is now nineteen pages.

Both Jake and David will get another go. I think both pieces work but I’ll wait another month or so before I revisit.


*Oh, I loved me some Jodi Picoult at one time. But after reading a dozen, you get the sense she rocks on wrenching twists. Of course, you read what I’ve got so far and you’ll get the sense I rock on traditional boys’ names and BBC stories.