Monday, October 27, 2014

The Paradox of Free Expression

I was unfamiliar with Brad Parks’s work when I attended the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference earlier this month, so he was a revelation to me at his Master Class. He discussed writing from soup to nuts as well as could be done in 45 minutes, and was educational, eye-opening, and entertaining. (Read: laugh out loud funny.) He also clearly felt comfortable in the company of other writers and readers predisposed to hearing some inside baseball stuff on writing, and spoke freely, i.e. did not censor his comments.

When I say his comments were uncensored, I do not mean to imply he channeled Al Swearengen. His language was neither gratuitous, not overly graphic. It was about what I’d expect from a writing discussion with other crime writers: an easy exchange of like-minded people.

That’s what I thought, and what Parks expected, based on his later comments. One person in the room did not agree and left, muttering under her breath about “too much…too many” after a couple of “fucks” made their (fleeting) appearance. Parks apologized, said he hadn’t meant to offend anyone, and probably should have monitored his language more closely.

Here’s what bothers me: she was a writer. (Well, she thought of herself as one.) Writers, if nothing else, should be all about words as a means of expression, the whole, “There are no ‘bad’ words” thing. Yes, you don’t use them in front of children, or in polite company. (Though I think polite company would benefit greatly if it loosened the fuck up once in a while.) I was there: neither of those descriptions applied. For a “writer” to take public offense with another writer’s language in the company of consenting adults is antithetical to what writers should stand for, which is free expression, whether or not you agree with the message, or method, of that expression.

I’ve written about this before. I expect I’ll do it again. The American hypocrisy about foul language is my personal windmill and my attitude well be a career limiting move. So it goes. It’s not like I have a “career” in the generally accepted sense of the word. As political and social bullshit demands words to have flexible—or no—meaning, the one thing I can maintain control over is my writing. Not the heinous shit right-wingers defend, nor the Obama apologists on the other side. Not those who argue an inability to persecute others is the same as being persecuted themselves, nor Salon’s daily “sky is falling” article. The only thing that’s in my control is to write the book I’d like to read, as all writers are encouraged to do.

So I fucking will.

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