I am searching for an answer.
Not to the “Why are we here?” type of question. I just want to know if a writer like me should use the F-bomb. The F@*# word. That frigging, fragging, flipping, flurping notorious expletive that either disgusts or delights us.
When I was a kid, raised in a rural town in Oregon, the word was a big fat naughty no-no. Little old ladies would faint at the sound, and the word on the street was, “The F word is eeeee‑vil!” I never once said it, fearing a lightning-bolt might take me out.
As a teenager, I heard some of the really tough kids use that word, as they threw knives at each other’s feet playing chicken. (What else is there to do when it rains for nine months straight?) Anyway, once again the conclusion was, only a knife-yielding delinquent would use that word.
I went to college, and soon found a correlation between drinking too much Schlitz malt liquor and people dropping that F-Bomb. Still, I held out, my virgin lips sticking to phrases like “Gosh darn it, who moved the keg?”
I moved to California as a musician, started a family, and even got involved in a church for a time. Not very conducive to swearing. I wanted to be a good person, be a good example, I wanted to look back on my life and say I never hurt anybody. People called me “Sweet” and “So nice!” and “Such an angel!” They even called me Saint Rose, I kid you not.
Yeah. I was nice. But where was my backbone? When did I take a stand and ruffle a feather or two? I had political opinions but kept them to myself because I had both very conservative religious friends and far left liberal atheist friends. I was a mamby-pamby milktoast girl with a strong sense of self on the inside, and a weenie on the outside. I walked my career as a musician without stepping on any cracks. I tiptoed through my song choices with caution and frosting. Mick Jagger swaggered and sang deliciously naughty things that most of society played to their children. Me? I changed words around to make them G rated, deflating the fun balloon till it was a limp piece of rubber that was no longer interesting.
One day I woke up and decided I was going to be me. Just me, without all the frosting and rose-colored glasses. I made an effort to express my true opinions and feelings, and wondered if I’d still have friends at the end of the day. You know what? I got a great big “Bravo, it’s about time!” from pretty much everyone!
I work hard every day to lose old habits, and try to never repress. Now I sing what I want to sing. I rarely mess with lyrics. I write stories too, and try to stretch my characters beyond my own limitations. And now… I swear at my computer sometimes. Okay, lots of times. And yes, now and then, alone at home, I’ll drop that F bomb, because it releases anger and somehow makes me feel better in the moment. And then I go put a quarter in the jar. (Okay, just kidding about the jar.)
Last week I sat down to write a story. I had a blank slate, no idea or outline, I just put my hands on the keyboard and started typing. What came out surprised me, in a very wonderful way. It was a story called Cali’s Mojo. The story was me, if I hadn’t been such a conventional people-pleaser. Unlike me, she lost her parents when she was twelve and became a runaway. Unlike me, she spoke her mind—all of it. Unlike me, she did exactly what she needed to do without compromise.
And unlike me, she used the F-bomb in public.
I finished the story, and remembered my younger self who was so shocked by that word. I thought, do I owe it to others to be considerate? Should I remove the word? I have a whole arsenal of lovely cuss words to choose from that aren’t as repugnant to some.
Then I thought, “Hell no!” Sorry. I meant “Heck no! I will not slide back into that person who has to weigh everybody else’s opinion and lose myself in the process.”
Still, I’m a mother. A mother who told my own children it was a bad word. But I am a different me now. And Cali—the protagonist in my story—she’s different too. All my characters are different.
My instinct and promise to myself, was to be absolutely true to the character. She’s an edgy street-smart runaway who doesn’t give a flying… fig what people think. I want to be more like her. Who am I if I am just me, without wringing my hands and wondering what everyone else thinks of me? That’s the person I am desperately trying to be true to, so she can come out of the closet, so to speak.
I got so wrapped up in the question, “To swear, or not to swear,” that I decided to ask three people:
I asked my husband, who read Cali’s Mojo. I got a bowl me over, adamant, “Absolutely you cannot take the F word out. It’s who she is. You can’t sugar coat your writing.”
I asked my fourth grade teacher, whom I greatly respect and who is a published writer herself. She wrote me a very balanced letter saying she is old-school and one of those who finds the word boring and unnecessary. She also respected very much, the fact that I even asked her opinion.
I asked my sister, a High School English teacher who also helps me edit sometimes. She said, “It’s okay to skip the F-bomb, but don’t take away from her authenticity—she’s no priss! She is tough and strong.”
Cali would never have asked the question at all. She’d probably give me an earful just for writing this piece and questioning my unfiltered expression. I believe, after much thinking, that I will not filter. I endeavor to be the writer that does not censor herself. I write what flows from me, authentic and true. I may offend those who, like the old me, are weary of that word. I may offend people who don’t like my subject matter. I may offend people just for being me. But that’s okay. I know I am loved for who I am, too. And at the end of the day, I need to honor the artist.