Friday, June 27, 2008


classing up our toys, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Perhaps yesterday's malaise was the result of a delayed reaction to news of the death of George Carlin last Sunday.

Now, I'm not what one would call a devotee of his nor could I honestly say I enjoyed his humor ... appreciated might be a better way of phrasing.

I appreciated the cleverness and quickness of wit. I appreciated the down in the dirt, lay it on the line tack it always took.

It made you think differently. Even for just a minute.

But as old as I am I wasn't old enough to really understand what he did when he - and others like him - stood up and swore up and down for free speech.

I know there are lots of people out there who think the way we use our words has changed the world we live in; made it a meaner more hateful place. They might be right. I don't know.

What I grew up being told, however, was words can't hurt you.

I think about this because I send my child to preschool - a place I've here and there referred to as "The Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children" for all its gentle molding of its young charges -- in the hopes of jumpstarting the work of making model citizens.

Making model citizens is a lofty goal, and one that people like me - parents who have gone through their entire adult lives wearing the same uniform -- T-shirts, casual sweaters and blue jeans (well excepting for that very brief window of time in the late 80s when *shudder* stone and acid wash BLACK jeans were all the rage) have rebelled against.

We have stalwartly refused to march to the beat of the professional drummer. "Be your own person." "You don't have to wear a suit and conform." "You don't have to play by some lousy, corporate hack's rules. YOU CAN BE SUCCESFUL AND BE YOURSELF."

Of course there are naysayers. There are those who ascribe to the school of thought that in order to achieve success one must dress for it; one must speak its language; one must put away childish things and act with mature refinement.

We shrugged our shoulders, made a kind of half-snort, half-meow sound and said: "make me."

Then we set out to make our own way in this world - which had now become a horrible place where crimes were recorded in times per second and no one gave up their seat on the bus to either the elderly or the pregnant. A place where parents were raising their kids in bubbles and the kids were coming out worse than before. ... That world. Who cares if it really doesn't exist? We think it does therefore it was created.

But I wonder ...

Have words lead to this?

I shake my head. I don't think so. I can't think so.

No. I don't think the world is any worse off because aint slipped into the dictonary. The world didn't stop turning when women left the home in droves, headed for the workforce. And it won't spin backward because I refuse to wear a business suit, or force my kid comb her hair and wear matching clothes. Giving my kids home haircuts isn't an act of abuse.

I don't care if my kid's arms are marker covered or if she's got splotches of popcicle on her shirt. We all choose our battles. And the crusty dirt between her toes is a rite of passage.

Yet, I worry.

Am I making a mistake by not making more of society's norms? To hover ... not to hover?

I've already felt the sounds of mild alarm raised in the eyebrows and clucked tongues in my direction; the doctors and teachers ... other mothers.

Carlin said it, and maybe it applies to me, too:

"People who say they don't care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don't care what people think."

Since becoming a mother I have to admit there is really no longer a vast luxury in "not caring what people think," because there are people - Little People - who are depending on not only WHAT but also HOW we think.

And we all believe thoughts are shaped by what?

That's right, WORDS; Big words, little words, good words, bad words and even sounds that make no sense.

Of course Carlin, in addition to being a tweaker of notions, was proably best known for his ability to knit four-letter words into warm sweaters of intricate patterns.

Swearing is fun. It makes us feel powerful and in command. I don't want my kids to think that there are "bad" words. I don't even think I want them to think there are inappropriate words. Only that there are alternate words, which might make the message more readily received.

As satisfying as a good curse word is, too often used it becomes difficult for people - even willing people - to hear you above the din.
We must remember that the individual words should never be more imporatant than their collective meaning.

I think Carlin understood that.

I hope I can help my kids understand that.

As a parent, it just feels so odd to wonder: "What Would Carlin Say?"

I'm sure he'd say this was all full of shite. He'd leave off the e.

** In any event we are off to Maine for a week of rest and relaxation. I'll tell you all about Silas' birthday party (or at least show you pictures) when we return.


apathy lounge said...

Yes to grieving for Carlin and YES! YES! to pictures of Silas' birthday party!

duff said...

This made me think - if you know who you are, you're successful.

I think George's passing has lots of us thinking about who we are and judgement. ;) Great minds.

Carl said...

Good thoughts. We ended up teaching our kids that there are words you use with your friends, there are words you don't use with teachers, and there are words the use of which will sometimes reflect poorly on you. They take it from there. We were very careful about our language when they were littler, but I also didn't want them to grow up into the kind of women who can't swear convincingly, because that's just kinda sad.

And it's hard to avoid in pop culture, anyway. I was once describing a very high-end restaurant I had been to, and my younger one, with no pretense or guile, perfectly referenced "The Blues Brothers" by asking me if it was the kind of restaurant "where the fucking soup is ten dollars?"

Hey, it was nice to see you live and in person!

supa said...

You always leave me with food for thought. Now you're gone for a week and I'm hungry!

toyfoto said...

Carl. It was nice to see you (and your lovely wife) too. Will have to do that again sometime. I can't believe I didn't bring my camera.