Somebody I like just broke up with me today. We’d been on one awesome date, and I was super excited, and now it’s over. It was sudden, and sad. And you know what?
It really fucking hurts.
In the past four years since my divorce and return to the world of romantic misadventures, dating has been pretty rough. It’s been complicated. It’s been messy.
It’s also been totally, mindblowingly, beyond fucking amazing.
Confession: I swear a lot. This wasn’t always the case. I was raised as a child in the deep south, in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was taught not to swear. I was taught not to “take the Lord’s name in vain.” Until adulthood, I refused to use “foul language.” I viewed it as vulgar, crude, childish, offensive.
Well, goddammit, not anymore. Today, even writing this, I might be feeling scared shitless, and a little afraid to put this out there. I’m, tired, I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m seriously fucking pissed. I’m maybe even feeling kind of really shitty.
I know that already, I’ve lost about half of you. But these days, I have picked a team. I’m on team “No more fucks given.” I’m on team “Say all the cusswords you damn well please, consenting adults, precocious children.”
This post is about why.
First, a word to the critics. I recently read a piece by author and speaker Michael Hyatt, titled, “How Much Business Is Your Profanity Costing You? 3 Reasons to Cut the Cussing.” In it, he argues, “If you can’t be interesting without profanity, then let’s face it: you’re not that interesting.”
I love Michael’s work, but in this case, I beg to differ.
This past summer I attended an event in Fargo, North Dakota. I go there every year for Misfit Con, which is a meeting of like-minded creative geniuses from all over the world organized by A.J. Leon and his wonderful creative team, Misfit Inc. During the conference, we gleefully drop f-bombs with abandon. It’s almost a trademark of the conference. That’s not to say that everyone there is perfectly comfortable with it, nor that everyone should swear all the time in any context. But disclaimers aside, I have long been comfortable with A.J. Leon’s use of language, and it hardly registers.
It was the night before Misfit Con 2015, and I had been invited to an off-site local event called 1 Million Cups, Fargo. The hall was filled with local people interested in entrepreneurship, social good, and technology.
They played this short video from A.J. Leon and his team at Misfit, Inc. which talked about his love of the city and his reasons for choosing to hold the conference there. In the video, A.J. says, “I hold it here because I fucking love this town!” and, “Fargo is fucking amazing.” The folks I was seated near, being mostly out-of-town visitors coming in for the conference, jazzed and elated to be together again, let out a hearty cheer at this. In the larger crowd, some just laughed it off, but the others in the room frowned and rustled in their seats, clearly uncomfortable. The moderators of the event seemed to feel a need to apologize afterward, saying “We apologize for the language.”
During the Q&A that followed, one of the people to speak was the Dean of one of the local universities, and during his question, he called attention to the use of profanity in the video, and said something to the effect that he would prefer to have the town represented by more appropriate choice of language.
I was really furious at the atmosphere of shame that surrounded this public dressing-down of one of my greatest heroes and mentors. Knowing how deeply A.J. loves Fargo, how hard he works to bring great things to the city, and how passionate he is about doing good in the world, it hurt to see him judged on something so petty. The event was for adults, and the whole concept of the gathering was supposedly one of open-mindedness, progressive thinking, innovation, and entertainment. I had flown at my own expense from California just to be in this town that I, too, have come to love and cherish. Yet, somehow, I came away feeling embarrassed for having cheered at the phrase, “I fucking love Fargo.”
One of the most moving things to happen during Misfit Con 2014, the previous year, was the speaker Erik Proulx breaking into tears during his presentation. Turning to face us, he said, “You know, guys, being a misfit is fucking hard. It is.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. And no one scolded him for not using appropriate language.
“Being a Misfit is Fucking Hard,” illustrated by Caroline Winegart
Here is a post that I wrote after the end of the same conference, in 2014, in a private facebook group for the attendees:
I still mean every word, and in that case, I truly do give every fuck.
One of my friends said something wise, recently. He pointed out that laws are there to protect two categories of people: the innocent, and the stupid. I would have to say that the same logic applies to swearing. We naturally try and shield the innocent from language that contains concepts that might hurt or trouble them, and we should and can limit what speech is appropriate for the context, therefore keeping stupid people from causing themselves or others undue harm.
In the case of A.J.’s video, Erik’s speech, and my facebook post, I believe that the use of profanity best expresses the authenticity of the speaker, best facilitates the emotional connection between the desired audience and the speaker, and does not constitute any irreperable harm either to the innocent or the stupid.
As to breakups, well, they fucking suck. But there’s a beautiful passage from one of my favorite novels, a book called Dicey’s Song, that I re-read every year. In the story, Dicey, the main character, has written an essay at school that gets her into serious trouble, and she’s earned a poor grade because of the incident. When her grandmother finds out and learns the full story, she doesn’t scold Dicey. She says,
“I think, maybe, it’s reaching out for that school. Somehow. I’m not saying that’s what you thought you were doing or what you even wanted to do. But it’s how it turned out. And I’m sorry, the way it turned out. Because somebody’s slapped your hand back good and hard. But I don’t want you to stop reaching, just because it didn’t come out the way it should have.”
Sometimes, we reach out, and life slaps our hands back good and hard. But we don’t stop reaching. Today, I declare, it’s ok to give a fuck. I stand by my choice to swear, to authentically express my feelings.
I am a master at getting back on my feet after failure. Because I give many fucks. I fucking love my life. I love who I am. I plan to keep being me, even when it scares the shit out of me.
No matter how many readers I lose, or how much business. There’s enough shame in the world without heaping more on the forbidden, which only makes it all the more enticing. There are real problems to give a fuck about, and swearing? That’s just not high on my list.