in which we address the profane

I worry that this Afghanistan trip is turning me into a woman of virtue.

That might be too far- virtue implies some things that would be a bit excessive for me. Certainly, though, I’ve been shedding my vices. I eat well, and regularly. I exercise. I hardly ever watch television- Simpsons at midnight chow every few weeks, Mad Men on my iPod. I’ve lost weight- 35, 40 pounds so far. I’ve stopped drinking soda. I do my best to avoid processed foods. I take my anti- malarial medication and a multivitamin religiously. I don’t drink. I’ve given up smoking. (Listing this out, I hardly know who I am anymore.)

I’ve been considering trying to give up cursing for a week. I have a dreadful mouth, especially out here where vulgarity is frequently used to express earnestness. I would have made a damned fine sailor.

This proposal- giving up swearing for a week- was met initially with skepticism, a generalized Sure, quit swearing, you couldn’t make it a day, eyeroll- heavy sort of response. I resent the idea that I can't do a thing; those reactions probably took the idea from idle fancy into the realm of why- the- hell- not? As I've continued to talk about taking that on, though, I’ve gotten a surprisingly large amount of pushback. The idea upsets people. There seems to be an overall assumption that if I stopped swearing for a week I would obviously: 1) never take it back up, and 2) begin to take grave offense any time someone around me swore. (I think there is also a third assumption: namely, that it will somehow cause me grave physical or psychological harm, but that's just silly.)

I don’t think Assumption #1 is really possible. Even if I didn’t take it back up in everyday speech, sooner or later I’m bound to stub my toe, break something, or meet some rage- making egotist and I will swear- loudly, copiously and hopefully with some level of creativity. Assumption #2 makes even less sense; I haven’t stopped spending time with people who drink soda, eat crap, skip their One- A- Day multis, watch television and smoke. Who would I hang out with if I did that?

I think cursing has its place. I don’t think it takes away from the language; there are times when a four letter word (or better yet, a compound swear) is absolutely the only thing that will do. I enjoy vulgarity as a sport when well- applied; Ian McShane’s performance in Deadwood is a fantastic example of what I’m talking about. (Please, don’t go YouTube- searching at work unless you have headphones, people. McShane’s dialogue in that show is the epitome of the phrase “not safe for work”.) I rather think my cursing would have more impact and meaning if it was rarer; scarcity increases demand and potential appeal, right? (Hah! That high- school economics class finally paid off.)

The challenge: to go seven consecutive days without saying- or writing- a curse word.

The rules:

  1. The definition of a profanity or swear word for the purposes of this challenge will be specific words that one wouldn’t normally say when having dinner with a significant other's parents for the first time.*** Blasphemy is to be avoided, as is any other word or phrase that would generally be considered obscene or lewd. “Dork,” “tool,” “idiot,” and generic responses like “So’s your face” are still allowed. The jury is still out on, "So's your mom."
  2. Full accountability: if I slip, I confess. If I slip and don’t notice, I hope to be called on it.
  3. Fake swear words- frick, frack, geedee, mother- trucking, etc are completely off- limits. Let’s be honest with ourselves: those are just placeholders. They mean the exact same thing as the words they replace, they’re just for those who don’t want to deal with the realities of saying them. No cheater words.
  4. Swearing in foreign languages is also forbidden. (If a co- worker tricks me into saying a word I don’t know is vulgar- completely possible with this bunch- that doesn’t count, but no deliberate swearing in language.)
  5. Reading aloud- say, from an email or a newspaper to someone else- doesn’t count but cannot be used gratuitiously. 

NOTE: Secretly writing “so- and so is such an asshole” (or anything akin) in a foreign language over and over in my notebook is absolutely 100% okay as long as I don’t deliberately show it to anyone/ publish it online. I know it’s not strictly adhering to the rules but I can’t make it through certain meetings without that. Call it a coping skill, a crutch or a comfort behavior; it keeps me professional when I desperately want to be otherwise.

I start tomorrow, 23 December 2008; if I don’t slip up at all, I’ll stop on 30 December 2008. Every time I slip up adds a day to the effort. Somehow I feel pretty certain I’ll be at this effort for a while.

***I know some parents wouldn’t mind; my father- in- law is a sailor. You know what I mean; the image still holds.

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