Or does the word
kind of look like it's in itals, even when it's not?
They gave Jerry Seinfeld a CLIO Award this year, and he made an acceptance speech they won't soon forget.
In the wake of a conversation I had this week with an old college roommate about the term "douche," I thought I'd share my latest thinking on swearing. Maybe we can compare notes. —ed.
I never used the word "douche" until the last few years. My roommate used it, and I thought it sounded mean and dismissive, calling a woman a douche.
I still don't call women douches, but when it became popular to call men douches—and to describe them and their douchebaggery as "douchey"—I got on board the Douchebagwagon.
I don't like the idea of calling a woman a "cunt," either—unless she really is like a total cunt, in which case, what're you gonna do? So far, I've never met a woman who I wanted to call a cunt. But I just delight in calling cunty men cunts.
It's also fun to call women "dicks."
It was a woman—my mother—who got me interested in swearing in the first place. When I was five years old and supposed to be asleep in another room, I heard her talking to my dad, and casually referring to someone as an "asshole." I began to giggle uncontrollably at hilarious rudeness of rhetorically reducing a whole, complex and spiritual human being to a dark orifice an inch or two in dirty diameter. I remember thinking quite literally: This swearing, it's for me.
Mom was a mentor in this area. When my father was out of town on business trips, she used to set the oven timer and let my sister and me say anything we wanted for an hour (except for "cunt"). When we ran out of ideas, she helped us, with terms like "double-decker pecker wrecker," and the complete sentence allegedly spoken by a World War I ambulance driver explaining that his rig broke down: "The fuckin' fucker fucked."
My first boss Larry Ragan used to say, "If you say 'shit' in front of a lady, what do you say when you have a flat tire on the Brooklyn Bridge." I puzzled on this, until I realized, You say shit again!
If I ever have to teach a class the basics of storytelling, we will spend the first two sessions watching The Aristocrats, and then I will devote the third to answering any questions they have, and then I'll dismiss them for the semester. Everyone who understands exactly why I showed them The Aristocrats gets an A, and everyone who wondered why gets an F.
I don't allow my daughter to say "crap" in the house, because when I hear that word, I think of the real thing. (Which doesn't happen to me when I hear "shit"—which Scout isn't allowed to say either, of course, because everyone knows "shit" is worse than "crap.")
I invented the term "fartballs," which Scout is allowed to say at home, but not at school. She doesn't bother. She doesn't swear at all, even though when she was four or five, she confessed that she thinks swear words all the time—whenever she's frustrated at something.
And finally: I hate the word "cuss," which sounds too fucking much like "puss."
P.S. You know that Chicago has three streets that rhyme with "vagina." They are, Paulina, Melvina and Lunt.
"People. Brilliant creatures who at a very high rate, predictably, are incomprehensible to each other," said writer Marilynne Robinson in a New York Times Magazine interview Sunday.
If your work is communication, your work is to help people understand one another. Which means, Robinson implies, helping understand disappointment.
If what people want is to be formally in society, to have status, to have loving relationships, houseplants that don't die, the failure rate is phenomenal. ... Excellent people well-meaning people, their lives do not yield what they hoped. You know? This doesn't diminish, at all, the fact that their dignity is intact. But their grief ...
Interviewer Wyatt Watson finished her sentence: "Is enormous."
Watson seemed discouraged by Robinson's view of the complexity and difficulty of communition, and asked Robinson, "So what are we doing when we're having a conversation?"
"Well, I think it's the attempt to cross. We are, paradoxically, given everything I just said, dependent on other people for our self-definition. I look at you, I see comprehension or question. I'm continuously learning from you."
Robinson also said something unrelated to communication that rung my bell as true. "I hate to say it, but I think a default posture of human beings is fear. What it comes down to—and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently—is that fear is an excuse. 'I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn't.' ... Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I've never seen in my life."
I guess what I'm saying is, read this article; it's full of ideas for communicators (and communicatees!).
I work alone. I love working alone.
After almost 15 years of working alone, I still marvel at how much I can get done in a day, with no commute, with no meetings, with no stiffs hanging on my cubicle wall telling me what was on the Jon Stewart show last night that we both fucking saw, and without having to spend hours proving to bosses why their ideas are dumb, because you're not allowed to just tell bosses their ideas are dumb.
I love working alone so much that I've contemplated making a t-shirt that says, "At Writing Boots, we work more than you, we read more than you, we exercise more than you, we spend more time with our kid than you, we sleep more than you, and we drink more than you." (I've never had the shirt made, because I worry it could make people jealous.)
However: On some days it gets pretty quiet around here. Sometimes, having 500 consecutive thoughts, all your own ... well that gets a little monotonous, a little tidy, a little airless. You begin to feel like a professional spinster.
And sometimes, usually in the late afternoons, you start trouble on people's Facebook posts just to find out if you really exist. (Or have you become a transparent eyeball?)
And when your friends politely tell you to fuck off, it hurts a little.
And the pain is real, so your nerves must be real, so you must be real.
And you go back to work, relieved.
And you try not to realize that Internet trolls do what they do based on the same need to prove they exist, by stabbing and being stabbed back. (And you protect by parentheses the further likelihood that the only difference between you and an Internet troll is, you have more work to do.)
At lunch Singer said, "Alma, I love this man! I love his enthusiasm!"
She shrugged and said in her Yiddish accent, "He's alright."
I had a similarly bracing moment the other day when my kid sister told me about a detractor I never knew I had.
For years Piper sent selected Writing Boots posts to a close friend, who I've never met. (We'll call her Torlaminda. Her last name isn't important, but it's Nudol.)
These were strategically chosen posts, picked specifically to please Torlaminda and introduce her to me. "My brother wrote this, I thought you'd appreciate it ..."
Strangely, Torlaminda never responded to the posts. After several years, she told Piper, "You should stop sending me your brother's posts. I don't like his style, okay?"
Maybe Piper can send this post to Torlaminda.
Torlaminda Nudol—all Torlamindas Nudol—how can I win your business?
As tell Scout: You wanna meet interesting people? Read the obituaries.
Each of them, in his death, enriched my life as a writer and editor.
From Patinkin—or actually, his friend, the actor Jeff Perry—I learned the full size of the job of criticizing a creative product. Directors and actors would beg Patinkin to give them notes on their work, because he was a "world champion note giver," according to Perry. "His process is gorgeous; like movements in a symphony or rules of comedy, it comes in threes.
First are the Socratic questions that lead you to this pleasantly shocked re-understanding of your intent. Then he continues with a great, blunt, nonjudgmental articulation of what he saw compared to what you intended. And finally, as you launch into a spin cycle of anxiety and self-justification about all the obstacles sabotaging your genius, he has the knack of being able to steer you, like a shrink, bartender and rabbi rolled into one, into the belief that the fixes are easy, they are absolutely in your reach, and there’s plenty of time to work them in.
U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant liked to make references to Star Trek, often ending speeches with a request: "Beam me up." Traficant wore an outrageous hairpiece, spent time in jail and had a lot of crazy ideas. But he got heard, with soundbites like this one, from a 1998 speech:
Mr. Speaker, the Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, the Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. U.S. regulations on the sale of cabbage—that is right, cabbage—is 27,000 words. Regulatory red tape in America costs taxpayers $400 billion every year, over $4,000 each year, every year, year in, year out, for every family.
Beam me up.
And then there was Alastair Reid, who only occasionally returned from reporting trips around the world to visit his office at the New Yorker (where the dope smoke often curled out from under his office door). What drove him him to travel all his life? Same thing that drives everyone to travel, to whatever extent they do. Here's Reid's poem, "Curiosity":
may have killed the cat. More likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.
Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems,
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
smell rats, leave home, have hunches
does not endear cats to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
are the order of things, and where prevails
much wagging of incurious heads and tails.
"It's a lie," the middle-aged blonde said on the sidewalk, right in front of my open window.
"It's a goddamned lie," she continued, to the middle-aged man who hung his head, one hand on the stroller with the baby in it.
"And there's never going to be any motherfucking trust," she said, more in anguish than in fury. "Ever!"
She swung her black purse and hit the man in the arm, and walked away. The baby began to cry, and the man tentatively began to rock the stroller.
I ran upstairs before I could see or hear anything more.
I don't write too much about sports here, because this is a blog for professional communicators.
But communicators should be interested in the Ryder Cup, which has become a phenomenon so fundamentally fucked up that no amount of communication can save it. Which communicators might find familiar.
The Ryder Cup is a biennial nationalistic battle between two teams of professional golfers. To a man, they claim that this contest is the most meaningful part of their careers. (I would like to know the least meaningful part of their careers as pro duffers. That would be really something!)
The Ryder Cup is a symbolic battle between the United States and Europe, because we need the modern world to remember that it's all about the United States and Europe. (In the years that they don't play the Ryder Cup, they play the President's Cup, which pits a U.S. team against an international team. This event serves to remind the world that, when it's not all about the United States vs. Europe, it's all about the United States vs. the Whole World.)
For many months ahead of the Ryder Cup, all we hear from top-ranked American golfers is how making the Ryder Cup team is all in the world that they care about, aside from the cherished families they never see because they're on the road 35 weeks a year. (When they're on the road, they do a lot of reading, averaging three books per year, according to a recent survey.)
All private jet-flying Republicans who believe purely and adamantly in meritocracy, many of the top players who have played badly during the season shamelessly and publicly beg the Ryder Cup Captain—this year it was the revered elder statesman Tom Watson—to consider making an exception for them. These exceptions are called "Captain's Picks." (I wish The New Yorker had Captain's Picks!)
The Captain, for his part, spends two years of his life talking about how he is spending two years of his life trying to get the Ryder Cup team chemistry utterly and exqusitely perfect.
And then they all come together and lose either dramatically or boringly to a European team whose members seem to suffer from only about half of the profound hypocrisy and terminal foolishness described above. (Why only half? Maybe because there is no Republican Party in Europe; maybe because the Europeans drink more together; maybe because Europeans are just too lazy to reach the heights of careerism that we do. I dunno.)
And finally—sometimes openly and sometimes slightly less openly—all the players blame the recently revered Captain for the loss, because he placed the wrong prima donnas in the wrong matches with the wrong partners at the wrong time of day.
And the recently revered Captain finds a way to point out—for the first time in two years—that it's actually the players who play, and if the players don't play well, the coaching strategy doesn't make any difference.
And then in two years, we do it all over again, expecting different results.
Because it only lasts a week, the Ryder Cup is not a permanent entity that would hire a communication professional to promote leadership, productivity and employee engagement.
But if it did, you would know just how that person felt, wouldn't you?