Thursday, March 10, 2011

figures of speech

[first, some introductory reading. this post won't make much sense until you read this.]

i am a writer. obviously; you're reading words i've committed to the internet age's version of the pagefor public consumption. as a writer, i pride myself on being able to paint pictures with words, using every color of my linguistic rainbow to tell my stories. i tell them in a variety of venues and formats, both digital and analog. sometimes, my stories aren't so pretty. i use language, metaphors and images that aren't meant for family time. i write of violence, twisted sexuality and other horrors of the soul. i like to explore darkness in my writing, because frankly, most people are a lot darker than they'd like to let on. i find the contrast between light and dark twinned with the contrast between public and private fascinating. (so do a lot of people; otherwise, dexter would never have been on television for five-plus seasons.)

but because i have chosen to write these things, i've often had to conjure images that are as harrowing as any true-crime report. i've imagined scenarios that wouldn't make the cut for law and order: SVU. like the writer in the article above, i've occasionally struggled with the morality of this sort of writing. darkness is an intrinsic part of the human condition, but in writing it, do we elevate it, or simply expose it for the evil that it is? is the dichotomy i imagine even a dichotomy at all? can you even get a satisfactory answer to these questions?

in the end, i think the answer to all of this is to be mindful with our art, our language. as writers, we owe a special duty to the society we reflect to do it as truthfully and authentically as we can. in the end, though we agonize over it, it's not the fault of writers that horrors exist in the world. all we can do is show as much respect to the reality we interpret when we work our craft. but when i go off-duty, so to speak, and revert to my regular, casual life, i can certainly control this a lot more. i can take the edge off my dark depictions by making damn sure that i work to create a world that doesn't have as much darkness in it.

the phrase [bad thing] totally raped me should never leave anyone's mouth, unless of course the bad thing in question is an act of sexual battery. we can stop, for the love of all things sacred and holy, venerating charlie sheen as a comic genius instead of treating him like the unapologetic woman-beating drug addict that he is. we can teach our kids how to sexually respect themselves and each other. for that matter, we can stop being so god-awful afraid of sexuality in our culture. no one would be demonized for dressing too sexy if we could get a handle on sexual expression and normalize it.

but that's a rant for another time. the point in all of this is simple: writers aren't the only people who should be aware of the power, the glory and the dangerous heft of their words. words aren't mere figures of speech. the things we say form the world we inhabit. by god, we need to make damn sure we build a world worthy of ourselves. we need to report the truth, we need to lay horrors bare for what they are. choose your words - your weapons - carefully.


  1. Ugh, this article from NYT was so messed up. It just sickens me.

    On a completely different note: Good luck on interviews. I finished law school in 2009 and it's been an absolute nightmare here [MI].

  2. In this age of constant text (which isn't, I realize, how most people see the internet, but um, yes it is), it's important to talk about our responsibility for what we write.

    Writerly Writers certainly, but your average citizens who blog or comment or whatever need to be aware too. In fact, anyone who uses language of any kind should be evaluating it.

    Not to get all religious or anything, but out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. And the pen (or keyboard) writes.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I was almost too mad to focus on the specific language people have been using in these situations. Scott said "raped" like you said above in a "comical" way a few days ago, and I gave him a strong tongue-lashing; like most others, he didn't mean anything by it, and just hadn't stopped to think about what the word actually MEANS. I think he's got it now. That is, he better have it now...

  4. a-greed. although i didn't entirely agree with the rumpus' take on the nyt article (the quotes that were so offensive were FROM the town; the fact that they didn't focus on the girl seemed to be out of respect for her, not concern for her heinous attackers) it shocks me to this day that violence against women is taken so glibly. i too watch svu, and while i dont think that's a bad thing, i do wish that somehow it had the same effect on others that it does on me - this shit happens. life is awful. we should DO something about it.

    as a writer, you are. thank you.


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