Art, slurs and euphemisms

You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last
–the Pogues/Fairytale of New York

Being a person of the recently single variety, I logged into OKCupid a week or so ago to update my profile. I had totally forgotten that my profile references a time when Santa called me an ungrateful cunt. I had taken the train to Tacoma to see Ma and Little L, and Santa tumbled into the seat next to me.  He was quite intoxicated. He slurred that he could tell I’d been a very good little girl and asked me if I’d like a villa in Provence for Christmas. When I asked if maybe it could be in Tuscany instead, he called me an ungrateful cunt and went on his way.

Yes, I’m serious. Santa.

So that got me thinking about words, like everything does.

When is it OK to tolerate a slur?

Obviously, it’s not appropriate in everyday conversation. It’s definitely not ever OK to call someone a faggot, nigger or cunt.  Well, *almost*  never on that last one…I do have an exception or two there.  No, not if it’s Santa. Generally speaking, though, I think we’d all mostly agree that it’s not ever OK to call people that  sort of names. If we hear it, I’d like to think we’d call people on it.

But are there situations when it is  OK, or even desirable? Maybe when used in a song or a book in which the artist needs to depict the sort of people who do use this kind of language? Or on the news when reporting that people directed those words at someone?

The classic example is Tom Sawyer and the “n-word.” Or there’s the snippet of the song Fairytale of New York by the Pogues I’ve quoted at the top of this piece. It’s a great song, but it makes me twitch every time they get to that part. And it should. The people in the song are the kind of people you probably wouldn’t want to be around much. The kind of people who talk like that to each other. The kind of people who used to feel like the King and Queen of New York, but are now drug addicts or drunks who spend their holidays in the drunk tank reduced to screaming their hopelessness at each other. The use of the word faggot is appropriate to the atmosphere of the song, even though it’s a word I hate.

And how do you feel about referring to words like cunt or nigger as “the c-word” or “the n-word?”  I’ve alluded to this before, I think.  It  bothers me when people use euphemisms to describe slurs. It robs the words of the very thing that makes them so vile–their power to virtually punch someone in the gut.

For example when a couple of  assholes in a truck  drove past a child’s party waving a Confederate flag and yelling nigger out the window, should the reporters have used the word nigger in their reporting or should they have used “the n-word” instead? Most opted for “the n-word” which disappointed me.

In my opinion, the word should be reported as said. No one likes hearing a racial or sexual slur, but reducing a harsh word to a euphemism makes it seems less impactful. It diminishes the effect of what was actually said. If I read “they drove past a group of little girls and screamed the n-word at them” it doesn’t sound all that bad. We have to translate it in our heads, which distances us from the impact of the word.  If I read “they drove past a group of little girls and screamed nigger at them” then it sounds as bad as it is. It hits me harder. It makes me think “who in the HELL does that to little kids?”

Using a euphemism diminishes the harm done. And it a weird sort of way, it makes the word sort of an untouchable entity. It gives it more substance by making it into a sort of totem of power.

And maybe that makes the word a little bit stronger.

When is something real? Trying to scream…

Hush little baby don’t say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It’s just the beast under your bed
In your closet in your head
–Metallica

 

The other night, I woke up and stretched my arm out to the empty side of the bed and felt an arm there. I froze and tried to think. I didn’t know what to do. So I screamed. Tried to scream. The scream wouldn’t come out.  I tried and tried to scream until I woke myself up not because of the scream but because of…adrenaline, I suppose. Terror.

In Junior High PE class we used to practice screaming as part of our self defense training. I was great at it. So great I should have been in a horror film at it. An example to other screamers great at it.

When I’m  asleep I am never able to scream when I’m in danger, and apparently I scream in my sleep fairly often. So if you have been one of my bed partners in the past, or hope to be in the future, you have my sincere apologies.

Why do I scream, or try to scream? Nightmares. Sometimes very frequent, almost nightly. Mostly I wake up screaming every month or so.  Sometimes I can remember them, but mostly I have little or no recollection of what I was dreaming, just the sense of residual terror…or  perhaps a vague sense of pursuit, violence or evil.  In the dreams I remember, I am not usually the direct target– the horrible things are happening to someone else.

There’s often a sense of complicity to the horror that remains when I awaken, even if I can’t quite remember what happened. I save myself at the cost of another. Running away more quickly than someone else. Hiding. Observing. Guilty of and by inaction.

They’re just dreams, right?

It’s fascinating how a body responds, though, to something that doesn’t even exist.  Exactly as it does for real danger. The body has no clue what is real, it just does what the brain tells it to do.  Or is it real if my brain and body agree that it is?

How do I know what is real myself if my brain thinks there is someone in bed with me who shouldn’t be? Or if my brain lets me watch a small child be flayed alive while I am asleep?

I guess that’s the point. My brain doesn’t know and so I don’t know, not really. Is “real” only a construct of belief? Does believing something make it real? Or more real?

When does real become real?

And why do we call something “just a dream” when the mind and body both think it’s real?

I think I’ll just play “Enter Sandman” again and stop thinking about it…

 

An imaginary conversation about bubbles

It is really hard to take a picture of a hand holding a bubble wand sticking out of a car window on the freeway.

I suppose it…wait, a what now?

A hand. Holding a bubble wand.

Going down the freeway.

Yeah. Blowing bubbles.

Uh. Bubbles?

Out of the passenger window of a black SUV.

While you were in your car.

Right behind their car.

And you were driving.

Who else would have been driving?

And so your first reaction was to take a picture. While driving.

No. My first reaction was to stop crying and laugh because the bubbles were so fucking adorable. Taking a picture was my second reaction.

I don’t even know what to say now.

I know. It was pretty cute. You should have seen all the bubbles.

No, I mean about the crying. Or the in car photography.

Oh, I cry on the way home every night. You should be more worried about the in car photography. And don’t sigh at me.

You make that challenging.

Anyway,  traffic started to move so I immediately put my phone down.

Immediately? No you didn’t.

Nearly immediately?

Maybe.

Well, anyway. I put my phone down.

What’s the deal with the crying?

Nothing. Just the usual  thing where 2018 thinks it will be able to kill me if it just keeps trying, and it still hasn’t given up after 3 months. So I cry.

Work?

Work. Personal. It all sucks and I’m in limbo on every side.

Your friendship side seems to be working fine.

True story, but even then…two of my most favorite people are beset with the same sort of shit that I am.

Did you really just use the word beset in conversation?

Maybe. You should pay closer attention.

I’m sure you’re right. So why do you cry in the car?

Because I have to act like I have my act together all day at work. Usually, that is not difficult…but this month I just don’t have it in me to keep it together all day at work and NOT cry on the way home. It’s all I can do to get to the car sometimes.

I guess there are worse ways to handle stress.

Well, with the whole fat camp thing I can’t handle it the usual way.

Booze?

No, potato chips.

Really? Not booze? I thought you were a bourbon fan. And IPA.

I am, but not when I feel like I really need a drink. With my family history, when I feel like I really need a drink I know I can’t have one. And I hate to drink alone. I’m a purely social drinker. Get me in a happy situation with all of my friends and a good glass filler and I’ll drink all day.  Not when I’m stressed out.

Good to know.

My drug of choice is the chip. Or mashed potatoes. I’m not sure it’s much healthier to eat my stress than it would be to drink.

Maybe not.

Anyway. I’ve been mostly able to handle the stress without turning to carbs. Kind of a miracle. The most stressful 3 months of my life, and I’ve lost 18 pounds.

Well done.

It’s probably not due to my healthy diet. The way this year is going, it’ll probably turn out to be a terminal illness or something. Which I will be diagnosed with just after losing my job and insurance.

Ordinarily I would tease you about being overly dramatic, but this has been a horrible year. Maybe you should get a checkup.