So, earlier this week, Toronto had not one, but two very interesting news days. As shocking as Toronto police chief Bill Blair’s revelation that there was indeed a video that matched closely the description of the video seen by Toronto Star reporters allegedly showing Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking from a crack pipe, on Tuesday Rob Ford blew that revelation out of the water. That morning, he stepped out of his office and spoke to the press saying that he had indeed smoked crack. No, he wasn’t a crack addict. You see, he may have smoked crack about a year ago (roughly when this video dates from), but he isn’t sure because it could have been during (and this is a direct quote) “one of my drunken stupors”.
Words really can’t describe my feelings Tuesday afternoon as I watched Twitter explode with these revelations, and the words Rob Ford chose to use. I was ashamed for my city. I was shocked. I was flabbergasted. But things ramped up again around 4:30 when Rob Ford announced that he would make another announcement to the press. Anticipation ran high as the Office of the Mayor became chic-a-bloc full of media, wondering what that announcement was. Would the man, finally, admit the obvious and resign?
The expected time of the announcement passed, and no Rob Ford.
Anticipation increased. People had to pee. But nobody dared move out of the office for fear of missing the moment.
Finally, Rob Ford stepped in front of the cameras, said that he felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders, he had apologized and was going to move on as best he could. Oh, and he wouldn’t resign his position as mayor.
Before I go on, have a look at this page here listing “24 mayors” who did more “embarrassing” things than Rob Ford. One thing I notice about this list? The overwhelming majority of these mayors resigned after being caught doing what they were doing, and many of these things they were doing would seem to equal, rather than beat, Rob Ford’s shenanigans. The fact that Rob Ford still hasn’t resigned highlights just how far into uncharted territory we are, and why this is not a good place for us to be.
Having witnessed this blow up, and having watched the anticipation of the second announcement build up, only to reveal someone who was still trying to duck responsibility and consequence for his actions, I had a little blow-up on my own. You can read it here on Facebook, though I warn you, it’s not exactly safe for work.
Yes, I swore. I swore blatantly and intemperately and I shocked a lot of people, not the least of which being my parents.
But here’s the thing: would I do this in normal circumstances? No, of course not. But these were not normal circumstances. Would I have done this if there were kids present? No, probably not. Would I have done this in person rather than on the relatively safe platform of the Internet? Honestly? Maybe. Because I’m not sorry I said those words. Yes, they were intemperate, but they were also from the heart. And they were precisely so powerful and so shocking and made the point I wanted to make because I used them so rarely.
Make no mistake: the words that I used were ugly and horrible, but sometimes ugly and horrible words are what is needed in the situation. The big problem with these words is that too many people use them all the time, which strangely enough this maintains their ugliness, but drains them of their power, and instead taints the user more than it gets their point across.
The downside is, of course, is that I can’t use these words personally in any situation again for at least, I estimate, eighteen to twenty-four months. However, I expect I should be able to hold out until then.
A similar situation occurred in my novel Icarus Down. There has been an ongoing debate among writers of young adult books on whether or not to include swearing in their novels. The truth of the matter is, a lot of teenagers swear, and some teenagers swear a lot. YA literature does not shirk from reality, so scrupulously avoiding swearing can make a novel feel fake. On the other hand, swear words are a very good way of getting your books banned in Alabama.
Myself? I don’t like to include swear words in my books because of the reasons I said above: use the ugly words too often, and you rob them of their power, while leaving the ugliness behind to sit like a fetid stench. It’s a complicated balance you have to strike. In The Night Girl, Perpetua wants to swear sometimes. I’ve allowed her “crap”, but I’ve bleeped a few other instances. In Icarus Down there’s Simon, a quiet and otherwise unassuming guy who prefers to keep his head down and play by the rules. At the climax of his story, he swears once, loudly and blatantly, and I think the situation calls for it. After all that he’s been through, and with the situation he is in, one blatant swear word underlines the import of the scene, and the depth of Simon’s pain. Anything else would ring false.
On the other hand, there is this video that I stumbled upon via Facebook. To set up the scene, the introduction goes like this:
Marina Abramovic and Ulay shared a great love story in the 70s. Together they performed art out of the van they lived in, forming a collective called “the other”.
When their relationship had come to an end, they went to the Great Wall of China to walk it together. Both started walking from the opposite end until they met in the middle for one last big hug before disappearing from each other’s lives.
For her 2010 MoMa retrospective, Marina performed ‘The Artist is Present’, the biggest exhibition of performance art in MoMA’s history.
During the performance, Marina shared a minute of silence staring into the eyes of a complete stranger who was seated in front of her. This is when Ulay arrived, without her prior knowledge. Watch the video below to see what happens.
Watch the video. What follows, quite honestly, moved me very close to tears. And not a single word was said.
Sometimes, you need to say a particular word. If you use it sparingly and in precisely the right moment, it can be as powerful as the sun. And sometimes no words are needed whatsoever.