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Profanity

Posted Apr 13 2010 3:19pm

CLAUDIA
Ok. I’ll tell you everything and you tell me everything and maybe we can get through all the piss and shit and lies that kill other people…

He laughs a bit uncomfortable…repeats her line;

JIM KURRING
Wow…huh…”…piss and shit…”

CLAUDIA
What?

JIM KURRING
You really use strong language.

CLAUDIA
I’m sorry…

JIM KURRING
No, no, it’s fine. Fine.

CLAUDIA
I didn’t mean…it’s vulgar or something, I know…

JIM KURRING
It’s fine.

CLAUDIA
I’m sorry.

JIM KURRING
…Nothing. I’m sorry…

CLAUDIA
No, I’m sorry. I’m saying I’m sorry. I talk like a jerk sometimes…

JIM KURRING
Well, I’m a real…y’know, straight when it comes to that…curse words I just don’t use much…

CLAUDIA
I’m sorry.

-From the 1999 P.T. Anderson movie “Magnolia.”

I use profanity in this blog. I won’t say I’m quite as apologetic as Claudia is in this scene from “Magnolia,” where she is out on a date and ends up retracing her steps to try and be more civil. The heartbreaking part of this scene is that Claudia is trying to be authentic. She’s trying to start a real conversation with a guy and talk about the real stuff, the heavy stuff, but he gets caught up on her language and the whole thing is thrown off and becomes painfully uncomfortable.

If my mom read this blog, she’d definitely disapprove of the cursing. Her school of thought is that you use profanity when you aren’t creative enough to come up with another way of saying things.

I was already planning on writing this post, and then I saw in the New York Times a back-and-forth between scholars about the use of profanity in public discourse. One scholar points out that swearing, about all else, is:

the expression of intense emotion. That’s one reason profanity is used — and will continue to be.

It’s basically for this exact reason that I swear in my writing. I’m a fairly educated guy and I know how to stay appropriate. But when life is profane with you, then I think you are allowed to be profane with life. I remember one time visiting my wife in the hospital when she was basically comatose. According to the nurses, she had spent about 18 hours in bed. She and I had established an agreement that she would call me (she was allowed to make calls) and “invite” me to come visit her every day. It was my way of giving her a small shred of autonomy in an otherwise completely powerless situation. People told her when to eat, when to sleep, watched her in the shower if she wanted to shave her legs, etc etc. Calling me to invite me was allowing her to take charge. And she called every day.

So one day, she didn’t actually invite me and call. I called the hospital to see how she was doing. They told me she was laying in bed, not talking to anyone…the comatose thing. So I showed up anyway. I had visited her every day that she was in the hospital and I was planning on breaking that streak. I got to her doorway, not permitted to entry according to hospital rules. She rolled over, saw me, and said

“I didn’t invite you here today.”

She rolled back over. I started talking to her, keeping it light and friendly, trying to be supportive and loving. About 20 minutes into my monologue, she rolled back over and said

“I didn’t invite you.”

So I stood in silence. For another 20 minutes. Until she said

“I didn’t invite you.”

I broke the rules about 30 minutes later, as visiting hours were ending, to walk in and give her a kiss on the forehead. When I leaned down to kiss her, she said

“I didn’t invite you.”

So let me ask you something. How would you describe a day like this? Should I come up with some sort of poetic metaphor? “Walking across the room I felt like I was treading across hot coals?” “Her replies stung me like a swarm of wasps?”

No. Because that’s not how it felt. That’s not authentic. Authentically speaking, that hospital visit was fucked up. Plain and simple. Profoundly and terribly fucked up. Because mental illness is fucked up. It is obscene and profane. As such, it’s hard to not to retaliate with profanity.

My apologies to those who read this and might be offended, but hopefully you now understand my deliberate choice of diction.


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