When I was in first grade my teacher made me wash my mouth out with soap. I’m not kidding. I had said the word “panties.” Again, I’m not kidding. I would imagine if I’d said the word “f*ck,” the teacher would probably have had a coronary.
I still remember when I first heard the word in a film. Barbra Streisand said it in “The Owl and the Pussycat.” In 1970. I was in a theater, and the audience gasped. How times have changed.
The word is used so often and in so many contexts that it hardly raises and eyebrow these days. The word has lost its ability to shock. I wonder what we will find to take its place.
At any rate the reason I bring all this up is I’ve read a few books that use the word. A lot.
The first of these is The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do. Dubbed “a practical parody” (of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which I have not read), the book has some excellent advice. I wish I’d had access to the book years ago. Her advice on families (especially her point that simply because we share DNA does not obligate us to care about or require us to want to be around our families) could have saved me countless Christmas holidays on the road, in the occasional snowstorm, an ice storm, and, when I did not drive, in airports, all of which was expensive, and, in retrospect unappreciated and often unpleasant. The book has excellent advice in other areas of life, including work, friends, friends’ children, etc. But, weighing in at 732 f*cks (her goal, she says, was to beat The Wolf of Wall Street, which has something in excess of 500 f*cks), she may be depreciating the value of the word. Anything when used to excess tends to lose its value.
Chronologically for me the second along the same lines is Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. I confess I really liked this book. Mr. Manson advises that we have so much stuff and so many opportunities that we really don’t know what’s important. He advises that we not try too hard to be happy—that the desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience and the acceptance of our negative experiences is a positive experience. He goes on to explain that the more we want something the less fulfilled we feel. His advice: Stop trying so hard.
He discusses the way some people address their problems—denial, for example, which he says may work in the short term, but not so much in the long term. Having a victim mentality is another cop out, which, he says, is easy and feels good, but doesn’t solve anything. He even describes a “victimhood chic,” in which it’s become fashionable to push responsibility—even for the tiniest infractions—onto some other group or person. He writes this may be the first time in history that every single demographic group has felt unfairly victimized simultaneously. He advises emotions are overrated and that the reason a lot of people don’t get what they think will make them happy is they’re not willing to exert the required effort. He gives the example of his wanting to be a musician. He fantasized, but didn’t practice.
What Mr. Manson reveals about his own life is interesting—he quit a job a few weeks after starting it and took off to see the world. He’s now living in New York. For someone who will soon be 33 years old he has a very mature view. He advises that we consider the world of 500 years ago and advises that, just as we look back in horror at their lives, we should realize people living 500 years from now will do the same—they will laugh at how we let our money and our jobs define our lives, how we were afraid to show appreciation for those who matter most to us but heap praise on public figures who didn’t deserve anything… . And there’s more. The book is 210 pages in length and is an excellent way to spend an afternoon.
Finally on the list is Erasure, a novel by Percival Everett. Mr. Everett is African-American as is his protagonist, Thelonious Ellison. The son, grandson, and sibling of doctors, and a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard, Mr. Ellison writes scholarly books and papers that get little notice. When he hears of a middle-class African-American woman who visits some relatives in Harlem for a couple of days and writes a book about the experience titled We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, and when that book becomes a national bestseller, he writes a parody including most if not all of what the isolated literary class imagines goes on in a ghetto. He titles the book F*ck, and his agent submits the book as one written by Stagg R. Leigh. The book is contained in the novel. The book is picked up, becomes a hit, and the novel then becomes about how Mr. Ellison deals with the success of his parody without becoming associated with it. This is a fast read (265 pages), extremely funny, and a commentary on our times.
© 2017 Larry Roth