Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Aw, Hell

That’s it. That’s about as far as I go in terms of cursing.

OK, sure, I also use the word crap fairly regularly. Maybe the occasional damn. But really, that’s about all. At least when I’m writing. In my day-to-day life, well, let’s just say I’m not afraid to drop the f-bomb when the situation warrants. Like when the alarm clock goes off, for example.

Granted, I write for young adults and upper middle grade readers, but I don’t mean to play the “Oh! Think of the children!” card. Maybe that has a little bit to do with it. I do hope my own kids will read my books in another few years, and when they do, I don’t want to have to redact anything. But I also know that that isn’t the sole reason why I shy away from profanity on the page. And really, you could make the argument that writing for young people demands you use a lot of swear words. After all, who is more profane that your average teenager? Authenticity would seem to require a cuss word in just about every paragraph, wouldn’t it?

It could be I spent too many years working in D.C. Here you can say anything you want, but when you put something in writing? Well, you better be careful. Writing is forever. You’ve got to hew to a different, higher standard if you’re committing something to paper. Especially if there’s a possibility that subpoenas might ever become involved.

Really, though, it may be simpler than that. It might just be a function of age. As I’ve gotten older, I find the use of vulgarities kind of unnecessary. They seem like the cheapest short cut to portraying intense emotion, and I guess I’ve found other ways to get the job done. This is not to say that I prudishly turn away from books full of swearing. Not at all. The occasional WTF can be perfectly amusing. It’s just that too much cursing is like using too much pepper -- distasteful when overdone. At least to my palate.

I saw a very funny bit once by comedian Nick Swardson, about how our grandparents’ generation listened to big band music and all this gentle, lovey crooning, but in another 50 years, nursing homes are going to be filled with old people listening to profanity-laced rap music. Kind of funny to imagine some 88-year-old granny fondly singing Lil’ Kim lyrics. But kind of gross, too. The image of elderly people with really foul mouths is kind of disturbing, don’t you think? At some point, aren’t we supposed to be too old for that sh*t?