Everyone has heard the old adage ... One's man trash, is another's treasure, but it wasn't until this morning while doing a bit of slog surfing that I started pondering the depth of that cliched notion.
We all know that scavenger that goes to the city dump and come home with more than he took. Or eagerly grabs that scrap of grisly fat from you dinner plate before you can scrape it off into the trash. He creed is ... "I'd hate to see that go to waste."
But let's move out of the concrete and into the abstract. Is there any difference between rescuing a bright orange, slightly frayed couch from the curb,
and defending a painting that your friend just said was hideous. Or using two cinder blocks and a one-by-ten plank for a bookshelf down in your basement bedroom, all the while answering your dad's screaming to turn off that damn racket with a yell of your own that, "Metallica is sweet music, not racket."
Maybe you think The Simpsons is the funniest show to ever air, but your sister says anybody who watched that vulgar filth is an imbecile. One man's treasure, another's trash.
As a writer I tend to use certain words more than others. They are in my treasure trove so to speak. The more common of these I have to be careful not to overuse so that they become echos. There are other words I tend to avoid. I could list them here but then I wouldn't be avoiding them would I. Actually i don't make a concerted effort not to use any particular word. I am always looking for the best possible word to make my meaning clear. Even if that word might offend. Which leads me to today's story.
Once Upon A Time, in a land not so far away I was in a critique group. There were six talented writers in the group. I was the lone male and the youngest by a good many years. A number of these fair maidens took offense one weak at the language I used in telling a scene involving a drunk and drug-addled man's attempt to beat and rape his ex-wife. They said female readers would cringe at the words I used. I explained that I wasn't shooting for good time and joy in that particular scene. I wanted to reader to feel the sting, the anger the resentment. To me the antagonist slapping an innocent women while saying "Golly darn. you make me mad." simply didn't ring true. Soon the discussion manifested around the F word. Fuck for those who like things spelled out. Sure it is a crass vulgar word, but if you are writing a crass vulgar character it is only natural they would utter it a few times in the book. But I didn't press. I listened while they told me to take it out so I wouldn't offend readers, agents, or editors.
But the very next week a new fair maiden visited out group on a trial basis. She whipped out a six page short story and commenced to reading. If I remember right the first F-bomb landed in the second or third sentence. Soon the sky was filled with with more dirty bombs than a hidden bunker in South Korea. With each one I bit my lip a bit harder to keep from laughing out loud. I looked to my easily offended crit partners and could see their jaws tighten. I literally had tears spilling out of my eyes before the story was finished. I felt bad thinking our visitor would assume I was laughing at her or her writing when i was not. the story was actually quite good and since it was written entirely from a brazen teenage girl who went to great length to shock those around her and to be the focus of every one's attention the language seemed appropriate to me.
The rest of the group didn't see it that way. And for whatever reason i found it easier to argue on behalf of this other writer's work who at that point I didn't know than I had my own work the week before. I'm not proud of the fact but for the next forty-minutes I argued with two senior citizens about the word Fuck.
I'm not saying that particular word is something to treasure. They were right in saying it was overused, but the meat of their argument centered around that including that type of language would kill any chance of getting published. That assertion was an is absurd, unless you are writing for an audience that like those ladies is easily offended by such vocabulary. Christian, Children's, Historical romance. For those genres the inclusion of that kind of language would land you in the trash heap, but write an action story with marines fighting for their life in Afghanistan, or novel about the culture of street racers, or a modern day pirate tale about sleazy car dealers in Oklahoma and one man's dream to visit the Caribbean and a bit of seedy lingo is bound to creep in. Especially, if that story is called Plundered Booty. I can only hope someone will think it's a treasure.
All of the above came to me after reading today's post by Debbie Elliott-Upton who blogs every Thursday over at Criminal Brief. Another commenter used the words stimulus package in his reply. Now this is a term that has been thrown around a lot lately in the media and never before had it struck me so, but today it seemed vulgar in a, "Hey baby, I got your stimulus package right here!" kind of way. That got me to wondering if anyone else has ever snickered when Bill O'Reilly or Katie Couric says, "President Bush's new stimulus package is slated to be deposited starting this Friday."