Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Afraid of Words...

Why is it censorship if someone silences those with whom we agree, but not those with whom we disagree? I know this isn't a new discussion, but I think it bears revisiting.

Even more subtle is the way we sometimes seek to silence those who expose us to ideas that make us squirm.

If I wrote a graphic story about being brutally date-raped and the antagonist in the story gets away with it--and I posted that story on a writer's board on the internet--I would be taking a terrible chance that people would be disgusted and offended by the subject matter, language and tone. I would take a chance that some readers would misunderstand and think I was glorifying the topic, because the bad guy didn't get his comeuppance.

That would be a chance I was willing to take--because I believe it's an incredibly important issue. I am willing to piss people off--and willing to take the chance that some sicko perv out there is going to get his rocks off because he likes the whole idea--but I cannot control other people's reactions.

But I am a writer. Writers spend every word desperately trying to communicate with someone--a theoretical reader--who comes away from that story changed for the better, who comes away thinking and feeling something new. That's how I set about doing my part toward changing this sorry fucking world for the better. Sometimes I'm sure I miss completely. Sometimes I succeed and never know it--and the faith that I do so is why I can keep writing from this terrible alone place in my head, where no one else can ever quite go.

If someone doesn't want their child to read my story, so be it. If someone wants to be shocked and appalled, and pretend that such things don't really happen in their world--that's their prerogative. If someone wants to stop reading after the first three sentences, power to them. But that one theoretical reader, who sees it, who gets it, who really connects--for the sake of that one person, I refuse to shut up. I refuse to only write nice things that make everyone who reads them feel better. In fact, I HOPE I shake people up and upset them enough to get off their asses and do something real for a change.

I firmly believe that is what writing, at its best, is really about. And as long as what I am writing is not actually illegal--then I have every right to put the words down and get it into the world any which way I can. No one is forced to read it. Even if I put it on a freaking billboard out on the interstate--no one is forced to read it. I have not taken away anyone's free will.

But if what I post is simply summarily taken down because it may make someone uncomfortable--I've been silenced. That is completely unacceptable. And it's a especially heinous thing for writers to do to each other. Because the ONE single thing I can really do--the ONE real power I have to make a difference in my world--has just been taken from me.

I believe if we are really interested in communication, then it is absolutely unconscionable for us NOT to support those writers out there trying to write something real, something that pushes the edges of our own comfort zones. In fact, I think we should seek and especially support those writers.

And just in case anyone really ever does read this blog: No, I am not talking about things like child-pornography. Kiddy porn is fundamentally dishonest intellectually, emotionally, and socially, and rightfully illegal besides. As such, it deserves absolutely no space whatsoever.

But a discussion as to why it happens? Sure. That absolutely must be discussed. Horrible things that happen every day, and we know they happen, and we are afraid to drag them kicking and screaming into the daylight and examine them so we can deal with them honestly--we damn well deserve those things in our society as long as we're going to act like such fucking cowards.

My best advice to anyone would be to really, really READ what others are saying--read between the lines, imagine their voices, THINK about how what they have said previously now informs their words. No matter what it seems like, hardly anyone really just talks to hear the sound of their own voice. And writing is too damn much work to engage in it purely for the sake of ego-gratification--which hardly ever freaking happens anyway.

A guy on a writer's board I frequent recently posted that a writer who is afraid of words isn't going to get very far. I think that is very true--not only about specific charged words like "nigger"--but also plain old ordinary words strung together to tell an honest but ugly story.

We must stop being so afraid of words.


Alex said...

Atta girl!!! I just couldn’t resist commenting on your blog which probably doesn’t make me the sharpest tool in the old tool box!! We humans are a terribly insecure bunch and that is why we always accept someone who agrees with us and censor out the stuff that is disagreeable to the old mindset. Most writers, to be successful, have to stir the old pot in order to sell their creations. If you look back on famous writers in bygone generations you will probably discover they wrote stuff that curled the local gentry’s hair. You, as a writer, are setting out on the well worn lonely old trail often walked by writers, that faced the same old saws that you so eloquently raise in the remainder of your blog. The first thing a writer has to do is find something that gets him / her all hot and bothered and then write passionately about it in an entirely interesting way or alternately weave it into a potboiler novel. I can hardly wait for your next chapter / novel etc.!!!

Mac said...

Thanks, Alex--I'm glad you stopped by. Feel free to comment any old time.

I think the whole issue comes down to fear, at least in my mind: that is, if we are afraid of our own ideas, or--even worse--afraid of someone else's ideas; then we are guilty of intellectual cowardice. Hard to change the things we perceive as wrong, if we can't stand to talk about them, in the first place.