Why is it okay now?
Words used to have p o w e r
This seems to deflate them - so, is it a good thing, or, is it a bad thing?
The following is a re-post by Tom Bentley. He is a business and travel writer, an essayist and a novelist. He's published hundreds of freelance pieces in newspapers, magazines, and online. He is the author of three novels, a book of short stories and a how-to book on finding and cultivating your writing voice.
How did previously taboo profanities become de rigueur on cutesy merchandise?
By Tom Bentley May 4, 2020, 8:30am EDT
If you look around — and you don’t have to look very hard — you might have seen that there are a lot of items that now have the word “fuck” printed on them. These aren’t exotic or unusual things: socks, pencils, shirts, keychains, desk calendars, books, earrings. Even bars of soap, which might be handy for washing your mouth out after use.
I started to notice this commercial drift a few years ago when someone gave me a cup with a cartoony cat image and the statement “Cats Don’t Give a Fuck.” Not that that’s not true, but it is rather blunt. The cup seemed to be a clever novelty item, and its cheery presentation nothing taboo.
This was not long after I’d heard Samuel Jackson recite the text of the popular Adam Mansbach book Go the F**k to Sleep, to give modern parents some solace. There was something a bit daring in hearing Jackson shout the expletives in an alleged bedtime book, but, to me, more hilarious than blasphemous. And late last year, I read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and checked to see what else he’d done, only to find his newest, Everything Is F*cked. It wasn’t until I received a set of 10 pencils as a Christmas gift — pencils labeled with phrases like “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” on them — that it seemed the product-profanity engine had reached fourth gear.
Those pencils (box-labeled “Fucking Brilliant: 10 Pencils for Writing Shit Down”) are the product of Chronicle Books, a San Francisco–based publisher of books and gift items. Chronicle’s Calligraphuck line has a high percentage of fucks (and shits) among its varied product roster. Kim Romero, senior editor at Chronicle, told me, “Calligraphuck uses profanity in an uplifting way, putting emphasis on positive messages and sentiments. Much of the appeal lies in the humor and surprise of seeing profanity rendered in lovely gold calligraphy. It’s an irresistible combination of irreverence and elegance.”
Chronicle doesn’t see a commercial risk in carrying products with a naughty message. “We’re always interested in offering our consumers something new. In this case: brilliant swear words with a twist, not just vulgarity,” says Christina Amini, executive publishing director of adult books and gift products at Chronicle. “Believe it or not, we spend a lot of time talking about which expletives are just right for this line. You can’t please everyone all the time, especially when you offer something with a strong flavor like our ‘Classy as Fuck’ flask. So we know that it won’t work for all retailers, but for the people who love this, they are all in,” she says.
When Will This End?
This pandemic is a reality that none of us has ever faced before. It’s more complex than the first time we picked up a Rubik Cube and struggled to realign those simple looking but devious color blocks. The Corona Virus has tentacles that seemingly shape shift on a whim. When scientists, epidemiologists and renowned doctors are still striving to understand the insidious symptoms and complications that come with this virus, of course it elevates our fear from so much being unknown. That, and that it is still seemingly unclear how this invisible menace chooses its victims. We come in all shapes, colors and ages and it doesn’t discriminate.
This uninvited formless monster snuck through the cracks of societies the world over, upending life, as we knew it. I know we feel helpless and more than a little aimless. So many people lost to this unseen enemy. So many families unable to console, cherish, or simply hold the hand of a sick or dying loved one. People are not sleeping well. Many of us are panicked about our future and how we will earn the money needed to pay for shelter, food, medicine, and education and on and on… Sigh! Businesses are falling like dominoes and it’s only been eight weeks since the apocalypse began to take hold. So many seeing their dreams shattered.
What I do know, is that history has proven that even this monstrous hydra will be brought down. It will take time. More time than we would like or have patience for. But patience is what’s needed. This is where our power lies. We need the willpower to keep social distancing, willpower to avoid crowed bars and beaches, willpower to resist temptation.
We are not powerless, if we spin this pandemic into an opportunity. We can learn from this dark time dimming the blue ball that we all cluster together on. Take a moment to understand our planet is breathing better, sparkling more, it’s letting the fish stocks replenish, the dolphins and whales have room to play without fear, every animal is finding it’s migration path and resting places in the sun. We humans can seize these days to find our place back in the sun. There are new and better ways to share what we have with those in need. There is technology to unite us all in our common goal. We don’t have to take to street to make change. We can unite and demand that the inequality between rich and poor be narrowed. We have the power to change. It starts with us. The Coronavirus gave us this!
What is appetite? I know what an appetite for life feels like.
It feels uncharted, wide open with all possibilities. It’s listening to Bono in your car at full volume, making a complete ass of yourself as you sing along, forgetting that your windows are open while sitting at a red light. The people in the car next to you start to laugh but then join in, making for a memorable and great moment. Or it’s sitting in front of the glorious, overwhelming Canada Day fireworks at Ashbridges Bay while a full orchestra of “Oohs and “Aaahs” takes over every pore in your body, or standing at the edge of Niagara Falls and breathing in that overpowering beauty, or standing on the shores of either the Atlantic or the Pacific or any other ocean as a storm rolls in and the power of the pounding waves takes your breath away. It’s impossible not to be awestruck time and time again by the majesty of nature or the ingenuity and imagination belonging to us humans.
Falling in thrall with another human being and wanting to consume the object of your desire, much the way a Praying Mantis does, is as terrifying as it is overwhelming … and more than a little twisted. It’s potentially dangerous but it is still appetite, probably more in the Hannibal Lechter vein. To feel your heart be cracked open by the power of love is like no other feeling. It’s achingly pure and magical. The want and need to be in that person’s wake 24/7 is wholly consuming - a different kind of hunger.
But appetite in the more traditional sense is confusing for me. When I feel the pangs of hunger, I’m not always sure what it is I am hungering for; is it food? Is it attention? Solace? Companionship? Stress release? Boredom? I know I want something and food is what I reach for first, habitually and blindly staring at the full or empty fridge, not always finding what it is that I need to shut down the feelings of emptiness or hunger. I can’t always tell the difference. I love food - good food. I’m not a junk eater. I have high standards even when I’m in an angst-driven tailspin. (French fries don’t count - they are a super food).
Often my plate is simply too full. I have taken on too much and I have forgotten to exercise the power of “NO!” That’s what it’s like to be a woman attempting to have and to do it all in today’s world. I am like those plate spinners that can’t stop running from one end of the row of fast-twirling plates to the other, keeping them aloft from sheer will. I am wide-awake at 3:00 a.m., unable to quash the brilliant and awful ideas spinning out of my overtired brain that is incapable of relaxing. But I have solved the crisis in the Ukraine, the mess of the Alberta Tar Sands and Jennifer Anniston’s dating woes.
Learning to say no is what we all must learn to do. We serve no one when we are on overload. Frying synapses zapping and popping much like the sound of the electrocution black flies and mosquitos face when flying into that seductive purple light - SNAP! Spreading oneself too thin is a totally false concept seeing as it leads to stress eating, which in my case leads to weight gain - Aaarrrghh! And it has nothing to do with my appetite. There is a hole that is desperate to be filled. Knowing what it really is that I am wanting remains an elusive mystery.
The planet is resting but we are restless. We are out of sorts. Our plans have been disrupted and we are scared what the future may bring, or worse…not bring. A future interrupted and completely stalled. No money. No direction other than being confined to home. Straightjacketed as we try to tame our claustrophobia. When we break free it’s as if we are in an endless corn maze, as we walk 6’ feet apart, desperately seeking a way out. Some pray to Jesus to save them, some to Allah. We all pray that this invisible equal opportunity destroyer of our hopes, dreams, lively-hoods and lives can be brought to heel.
This is when resilience is truly required. I know this, in order to live a quality life it’s a very necessary component. But what exactly is resilience? To my mind, in it’s simplest form it’s similar to the coating one finds on non-stick frying pans. Bad things can be made to slide off. But like bobsledding or axe throwing, it’s a skill that requires practice.
Into every life there are troubles big and small. Right now, we are dealing with the biggest trouble of all. This ravaging death stalker called the Coronavirus. It’s tentacles are everywhere, but we can’t see them, except in the body count which is climbing every hour and every day. Of course we are scared. We don’t know which way to point our sword. How can a little facemask and endless hand washing protect us? But they do! So does this uncomfortable, ill-fitting idea of distancing ourselves from our friends who we lean on in times of trouble, and now we can’t. But we are not on our own. We are sharing this daunting time with not just family and friends but with our entire planet.
How we handle these troubles is what makes us or breaks us. Remember, we are not defined by our circumstances. It’s the way we respond that defines us. Resilience and flexibility is what we all need to make it through these moments when the unexpected awful comes our way. I really believe that faith is the unsung companion necessary to make resilience whole! Don’t spend too much time alone in your head. It can be very weedy and dark in there. Find someone to talk to, or laugh with, even if it’s online…or pick some flowers and make them into a bouquet. It’s always about making the best out of every situation. That’s our path forward.
Every day, in almost every civilized country, there is a feature story (with before and after pictorial) about how to make your body look better. Better than what?
What is the holy grail of a better body? What if you haven’t won that genetic lottery? What if you are short or pear-shaped? Busty or flat chested? Stocky or skinny? We can’t seem to leave well enough alone, because we don’t know what well enough is. We orbit into a spin-cycle of self-directed mean-girl-ness.
Must we spend our lives in abject misery about our God-given design flaws? I say NO. I am fat, fit and fabulous! And I have spent far too much time trying to be something that perhaps I was never intended to be…thin.
I started my TV career as a plus-sized woman by doing an exercise show on City TV. I squeezed my body into a leotard, yanking that thing up as if it was a sausage casing, praying that when I stood up; nothing would fly out, especially my boobs (which by then looked like floatation devices). Blessed with an unnaturally flexible body, I did backbends and the splits. I decorated the Christmas tree with chicken legs and celery twists and played host to an endless parade of fitness experts who all thought they had the solution to being overweight. ‘Lose it!’ I tried. I did every diet on earth and some that must have come from Mars. If it was on a magazine cover, I did it. I knocked back a drink infused with clay, which was guaranteed to suck the fat from everywhere including your spleen. (Assuming one could have a fat spleen - which I’m sure I must have) The drink smelled like wet basement walls, tasted like the very glamorously named plaster of Paris. And that was the good news. The bad news came as my personal plumbing ceased to function and I was left with what I imagined to be my very own collection of clay garden gnomes that now resided in my gut. Never had I been more bloated or hoodwinked. Zero poundage was lost as my doctor encouraged me to eat lots of bread dipped in olive to loosen the backlog. Eew! My next favorite diet-disaster from the ‘Chronicles of Stupidity,’ was presented as a guaranteed lard-dropper: daily shots from the urine of pregnant cows. What? But of course in my desperation to become thinner, I said yes. Every day for six months I had a needle jabbed into my hip filled with pregnant cow urine. (How was that collected?) The diet accompanying the shots was an alarming 500 calories, mostly made up of grass cuttings. OF COURSE I LOST WEIGHT! I was eating the equivalent of two sticks of gum! But the diet devils couldn’t have made any money from that scheme, so they fronted the whole flim-flam enterprise with the magical properties found in pregnant cow urine. Why are these shysters never put in jail? I know why, because desperate people like me pray that there could me a kernel of truth to these brilliantly crafted sales pitches. As if the diets weren’t enough, there are always the bullshit exercise contraptions that have been springing up like mushrooms since the turn of the last century. Shaky leather belts strapped to one’s derriere, pulleys, ropes, electrified fat-melting pulse machines. Hey, I wore gravity boots to bed. I knelt at the altar of my Thigh Master. I skipped, I hula hooped and I popped Bennies. I lost weight.
I have a gold star for losing weight – and I have a platinum one for gaining it back. I’m not a scientist, but I have a theory: fat doesn’t ever really disappear. It hovers above the hole in the ozone layer just waiting for one bad hair day, one teeny emotional meltdown, one glimpse caught in an unflattering light and…whoomp! Fat always finds its way back home.
There are Ferraris and there are Fords. There are racecars and cruisers. Would I want a smokin’ hot body? You bet, but I wouldn’t know what to do with one. I already have a permit for this one and it has taken me years to learn to hug the curves and drive it full out!
When I’m feeling blue and my energy is seeping away through every pore, my mind drifts in seemingly random directions… Outside my window, a scrum of unruly teens all engaged in distracting an ice-cream truck driver just long enough to make away with the frozen contents of his freezer – The bluest of skies plays host to two remarkably poodle-shaped clouds which I am fixated on until they join together to become one far less interesting wooly blob. Aimlessly, I begin counting and then recounting the grey and white tiles on the floor that appear to have faces embedded in their splatter pattern. I snap back to earth feeling out of sorts. Nothing is wrong but nothing stands out as a game changer either. The feeling is grey and foggy, shrouded like a mid-March morning. Stephen Hawking suddenly makes his presence known. WHAT? He recently died after a fifty-year battle with ALS. Truly unheard of… He’s looking straight at me. Piercing intelligence darting from his eyes. He is snaggle-toothed, shriveled and deformed and so much a part of our collective memory. He’s a genius, plucky and resolute to go beyond the body that has been determined to thwart him. He is a true seeker. A puzzle solver and door opener, never a complaint, just acceptance and indefatigable determination. Why is he here? Why is he so focused on me? Is he an angel? Is he my angel? Is he here to slap me upside my head? How dare I feel sorry for myself? How dare I think I have any real problems? I have four functioning limbs, a strong spine, along with a relatively good head on my shoulders. Nothing compared to the great and brilliant apparition looking into my very soul. My revelation comes like a blast of wintery air. He is here. I am to look at him – really look at his shriveled body and see that my problems are not problems. They aren’t even challenges. They are the bumps on the road of life. That’s it. That’s all. I have everything. I’m just low on gratitude for all the gifts I already possess.
Thank you Mr. Hawking for reminding me.
I am a bold faced resister. I march for human rights. I stand for anti-war, anti-violence, the right to choose, equal rights. I push back against cruelty, abuse of power, bullying, senior care, poverty, and injustice of all kinds. Resistance is in my DNA. I am proud to take a stand for the principles I live by.
There is however another kind of resistance. It’s the one that lives inside me and it is far less admirable. This resistance is the kind that doesn’t stand up but rather slinks around the dark corners of my psyche. It creeps to the forefront when it brushes up against all the things I don’t like or understand. Things I am clueless about routinely get shoved deep into a dark, cobwebby part of my brain. If I can’t easily dismantle a problem and Google has failed to illuminate me, I shut down. I feel that resistance creep up my spine into my head and virtually turn off the lights, leaving me so in the dark that the problem can no longer be seen. These problems are never moral matters. They are often the most basic of needs that elude me. A fuse goes out. I am inept at locating which one therefore I sit in the dark until the cavalry arrives. Christmas lights that have become impossibly tangled causing me to fling them across the room, inevitably breaking them beyond repair. Computer issues that create head banging frustration. Being kept on hold, only to be disconnected and thrown back into the loop owned by the most evil of dark lords leaves me close to weeping. Bills mounted up that have taken up residence in a drawer of denial. - A metaphor for passivity, bordering on coma-like resistance.
It’s in those times that I pray for a brawl between two six years olds that I can insert myself into, or catching an irate driver unjustly picking on a defenseless crossing guard for slowing down his commute to let an old woman make her way across the street. That’s the resistance that calls out to me…
I am the CEO of me, the COO and the CTDEE (Chick That Does Everything Else) I’m not complaining. But wait, that’s coming…
I like being in charge of me…Its my life. I know what I want. I didn’t always but I have been around long enough to have taken bad advice and not always taken the good stuff because I didn’t know the difference. I didn’t yet know me. I was Plasticine in the hands of others, being molded one way and then pulled apart and reshaped over and over again until I was a muddled and misshapen.
I know this, being clear about what it is you want to get and give back to this life, takes many stumbles, many dead-ends until a path becomes opens up before you. That’s what happened to me. I dipped my toe into so many pools that I became confused. I have been a dress designer, an actress, a writer, a producer and an entrepreneur. I loved it all. I took on everything. I was pretty good at so much of it but I discovered to my shock and horror that I couldn’t be brilliant at everything. That old adage began ringing so loudly, Jack-of-all-trades, a master of none. It’s a humbling moment. As a natural born multi-taker I thrive on creating. But there were hard lessons to learn and my battle on giving up anything was in fact holding me back. I couldn’t understand that I couldn’t do ten things at one time without more than few of them suffering from my split-screen attention span. A watered down talent is not much of a talent. My ephiany was learning when to say yes and when to say no and accepting that some things had to go.
It was the best thing to happen to me. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and decided to find out what mattered the most to me. Now I do no more than three things at a time and don’t take on anything else until I have finished one making room for another.