Self Censorship

On October 1, I changed the theme of my blog for the first time in three years, and asked you guys if there was anything you wanted to see me write about. ShoutAbyss  posed this question to me:

 How did you decide you are an atheist? Do you out your atheist beliefs or keep them in the closet?

I realized, as I read the comment, that when it comes to my blog, I really do keep a lot of things in the closet. I censor myself. I rarely, if ever, use the swear-words that I use both in everyday life and in much of my fiction. I try not to touch tricky subjects like politics or religion. I don’t share my deepest darkest secrets – or, if I do, I try to mask them in story form or in poetic prose, and I attempt to shield my exact meaning. This last makes sense – there are people who read this blog who actually know me, and sometimes I want to discuss things that they might not know about me and that I’d rather not share with them. This is natural. Anyway, writing about my personal life through other kinds of media is an interesting challenge and I enjoy it.

But why do I censor my politics, my religious opinions, my coarse and often vulgar language?

I think I’m scared. Scared to alienate readers. Scared to have people challenge me on my ideas. To be fair, when it comes to politics, while I have solid ideas and opinions of my own, I don’t feel comfortable expressing them when I’m ignorant of many of the facts. The title of this blog has always, whether you knew it or not, alluded to my weird reluctance to read the news and educate myself properly on what’s going on in the world. I’m less ignorant now, and I listen to NPR and read the New Yorker, and I feel more informed, but I still feel the childish ignorance rise up in me when I’m called to defend my opinions.

When it comes to religion… well, that’s a very sensitive subject to a lot of people, and it’s one that I feel extremely strongly about. I also know that I have various readers who have their own strong opinions, and yes, I don’t wish to alienate them or push them away from me. I’m probably not giving them enough credit – they’re all open, intelligent people, and I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t forsake me because my opinion differs than there own. And yet – and yet I still haven’t written about how I feel on this subject (unless, of course, I have and I’m not remembering it. Which, in three years of blogging, is entirely possible.)

Finally, when it comes to the profanities, I think that I don’t use them because a) yes, they make many people uncomfortable, but also because b) there are stronger, more interesting words for me to use, and it’s a fun challenge to write differently than I speak.

So am I censoring myself? No doubt. Despite all my lovely rationalizations above, I’m still aware that it probably all stems out of fear of being rejected. Approval matters to me a lot more than I feel comfortable admitting. But maybe, in censoring myself, I’m managing to explore some other sides of me, my mind, and my writing.

How about you? Do you feel like you censor yourself on your blogs?

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He’s in the Kitchen [Flash Fiction]

Who? Satan, that’s who. He’s a chum, a pal, you see, of my pop. Pop has him over round ’bout once a month, for beer and a chat. They yap their jaws like nobody’s business. They talk and talk and I lie abed like Pop told me to and try to listen, but I can never understand no words nohow. It gets so mighty hard to take, knowin’ the king of hell is in the room just across the hallway, but Pop says he made a deal and he’s gotta abide by it. Pop’s a man of his word, I know that. He’s never made me a promise he didn’t keep, and I know he won’t ever.
Lacy says that Satan once came and spoke to her but she’s a big liar and likes to make hersel’ seem big and important, that she does. She says that Satan gave her an offer, jus’ like he gave Pop, but she said no on account of bein’ too young. She said he should come back in five years and ask again. That was two years ago. Lacy is seventeen now, and I’m fifteen. I guess fifteen is the age Satan likes, cause tonight he comes and knocks on the door to my room.
“I haven’t seen you since you was in diapers,” says Satan, nodding his big head and smilin’ all kind-like. He ain’t so scary once you get used to him. Sure, his skin’s a little strange, and his horns take some gettin’ used to, but all-round he looks a mighty lot like Santa Clause, only in a fisherman’s gear and not a big red suit. He’s fat and jolly, is Satan.
“Yessir,” says I. I wait but he jus’ smiles down at me. He looks like he’s gettin’ taller every second. Pop says that can happen with him – he doesn’t look the same two seconds in a row.
“Gertie,” he says all solemn suddenly.
“Yessir?”
“I have a proposal for ya.”
“Sir?”
“The same one I made your pop all those long years ago.”
I guess Lacy wasn’t lying, and that’s a surprise right there. I think my mouth stays open too long, cause Satan puts a finger under my chin and closes it and says “Don’t want the flies getting in there, do ya?” I don’t know what to say, so I shut up for a while and think.
What have I got to lose? I’m short and ugly, Lacy got all our ma’s looks, and I ain’t brainy neither. Pop is good to me and I’m his favorite, that’s true, but nobody else in town takes much store by me. I think now that Pop maybe never made an effort with Lacy and me really cause he knew Satan would help us along by and by. I think of Sunday school and the old preacher-man who talks for hours and doesn’t say anything. And I think of the talks that Satan and Pop have. I hear ’em laughing a lot. It sounds kinda nice, the way they talk, and Pop always looks kind of young and smooth after Satan leaves.
So I stretch out my hand and tell Satan “Alrighty then. Shake on it.”

Apocalypse [Flash Fiction]

Kit posted a writing prompt, so I decided to create a weird piece of flash fiction out of it. Not one of my best, but I’m tired and my legs are burned from standing outside in the sun all day at work. Also, the dialect is purposefully weird, and you’re not supposed to necessarily pinpoint the accent. I know dialect can be annoying, but I felt that if I was going to write a little apocalypse flash fiction piece, I might as well put it down the way I see it (and hear it) in my mind. Enjoy the weirdness and feel free to dislike it (does that even make sense? I really am tired.).

It happened in a searing wave. When grandpappy told me bout it, he got all red in the face, like as if ’twas happening right then while he was saying it. Mam can’t hardly remember any ‘fit, cause she was so small. Da’s older than her – he and Mam say that there was ten years tween them, but years don’t mean any old thing anymore. A year used t’be when the planet went round the fireball once, but time’s all different ways now that the fireball exploded.

Grandpappy told me’n Sean that there was a people a long long time ago that used to love the fireball and called it God. Sean laughed at Grandpappy and tol’im he was stupid cause everyone knows that the fireball was the Devil and tried to kill all of us once. God saved us and made the few docs that lived invent D-Bits so we get our fire vitamins reg’ler. But Grandpappy jus’ looked at Sean laughing and was really sad. He gets this look on his face, Grandpappy does, and I can see that me’n Sean aren’t as good as he wanted us to be. He tells us that were all sorts of stuff when he was a kid that we can’t have now, but I say that it’s better this way. God don’t need books and big buildings and stuff – the Dark is good enough for any prayer meeting and Grandpappy should know that. Mam and Da yell at him sometimes, and Mam calls him something but she never tells me what it means. I guess it’s real bad? She says he’s a Nathiess and says that she’ll be burned if her kids’ll be too. Grandpappy tells her we’re stupid, but I stopped cryin’ about that moons ago.

He might think I’m stupid, but Grandpappy lived when the fireball blew and that means God wanted him to care for Mam so she could marry Da and have Sean’n me. It’s enough to live after what happened to the planet, everyone knows that. Even Grandpappy.


A Crucial Fireplace

Some say that Fate guides them through life. Others believe that it is God who grasps their hand and tugs them, gently but insistently, into the future. Whether one or the other is true, or whether life is just a series of random happenstances, I am certain that things might have turned out very differently if Amanda had known the the room had a fireplace. Circumstances, then, be they under divine control or not, have the utmost impact on people, and Amanda would always look back at that dratted fireplace as the start of the whole sorry tale.

Amanda, the reader might want to know, wasn’t religious in the proper sense of the word. She believed in God, although she characterized Him with the sense of humor of a rather crotchety, bored old man, but she often forgot about Him in the fun and flurry of the holidays. It was hard to remember, when hanging up cheap silvery-colored ribbons on the Christmas tree and laughing uproariously with her two roommates over wine-coolers, that the celebration on December 25th owed anything to religion at all. It was all a big pageant to her, full of red, white and green, golden stars winking from shop windows, snowmen standing in backyards and children carrying little ice-skates over their shoulders. The magic of Christmas was to Amanda the same now, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, as it had been when she was four years old and wearing a full pajama suit that made her look rather like a koala bear.

But we are straying from our story. The moment of the fireplace, as we must call Amanda’s first glimpse of it, happened on Christmas Eve, but was not directly connected to the birth of the Son, nor to Amanda’s remembrance – or rather, lack thereof – of the meaning of the holiday. The fireplace lay in the room where she was to have her interview for the position of copy-editor in the Local Post, a weekly newspaper that was distributed for free around town and was filled with advertisements and coupons. The room where the fireplace lay was on the ground floor of the tallest office-building in the small city, and Amanda had been working in the self-same building since she’d gotten her M.A. in journalism. Because of her familiarity with the rather old high-rise, she dressed warmly to work every day during the winter, since the heating never worked properly. Naturally, she assumed that her interview for the lowly position in the Local Post – which was, nevertheless, better than her current job as a secretary – would take place in a cold room that had a crack or two in the window.

But, alas, as Amanda discovered when she walked in and saw the figure of Mr. Charles Forthright, the old fireplace that was in the editor’s office was ablaze, and warmth washed over her. She was much too embarrassed and tense to begin pulling off her two sweaters and one of her undershirts, and so she sweltered, face growing redder and forehead sweatier, answering the questions Mr. Forthright posed with liveliness and enthusiasm but what seemed to be extreme guilt or discomfort. It is a sad fact that sweat and redness often are products of liars, and Mr. Forthright was a rather supposing man, in the sense that he supposed things he thought were true without bothering to check them too deeply – he had fact-checkers on staff to do that dreary work for him. And so, although he thought that Amanda looked like a lovely young girl, he supposed that she was hiding something, such as an unwanted pregnancy that would lead to taking time off, or perhaps a health concern that would lead to the same, and as a calculating man, he decided not to give her the job.

Amanda conveniently forgot that she could have asked for a moment to remove her sweaters and get more comfortable. Throughout the changes that she would go through in coming years, she still insisted obstinately that if it weren’t for that fireplace, she would have gotten the job at the Local Post, and her life would have turned out entirely differently.

Dear Santa

August 27, 2010

Dear Santa Clause,

Mommy and Daddy say you don’t exist because we’re Jewish. But my best friend Wanda says that you do and she’s my best friend so I’m going to listen to her.

I’m 8 and I’m starting 3d grade tomorrow. I don’t want to go back to school. But Wanda says that Christmas will be here very soon (in 4 months) and that then I can get presents from you if I ask for them nicely.

Wanda got a lot of nice presents last year. She got another pony doll for her collection and a bathing suit for the summer (she says that was a funny present to get in the winter but I said it was a good idea and that you’re smart for thinking ahead) and a computer game about ponies (how do you know that she likes ponies? Does she tell you?) and also a book that’s about a horse (she likes ponies better than horses but she still liked the book. It was about a ghost horse! It was a good book. We read it together.)

I have been very good this year Santa. I wrote in my diary every day like the reading and writing teacher said I should last year because I wasn’t so good at it. Mommy helped me with spelling all the time but then she also showed me how to find the right spelling on Google. Do you know about Google Santa? I bet you do. Maybe you started it. I asked Wanda why I couldn’t email you and she said that you didn’t have internet in the North Pole (or South Pole? I can’t remember but I’ll ask Wanda before I send the letter).

I have also been helping Mommy do shopping for food every week and I take my dog Pesky for a walk every day (Mommy and Daddy take him for walks too) but only around the park because Mommy doesn’t want me to cross the street alone yet. I crossed the street alone once because Wanda dared me to but except for that I have been very good!

I know it is early to write to you, but I wanted to tell you that even though I’m Jewish and we have Hanukah I still want to have Christmas too. It’s not just for the presents. I’m not greedy! It’s just that Wanda has a fireplace and we don’t so I think you’ll have to come in through the window in my room (it’s biggest) and then I’ll get to see you. I want to meet your raindeer. Why are they called that Santa? Do they like the rain?

Like Mommy said to do I’m reading everything I wrote now to check for spelling and I fixed some stuff (ok a lot of stuff but I’m getting better!) and I know that I asked you a lot of questions. Will you write back to me Santa? I hope you will. I want a penpal.

I hope I see you in December!

Sincerely,

Me (Wanda says you know who we are and that we shouldn’t write our names in case someone else finds the letter and tries to find out where we live. But you know where we live already so that’s ok)

Lucy’s Diary, May 27th

May 27th, Night, Library

Dear Diary,

Something is going on with R. I’m getting worried. He was supposed to be getting better, but when I visited him today I found him trying to claw his way across the floor. He was sweaty and feverish and I’m positive he was delirious at the time. The doctors aren’t telling me much, because they don’t have proof that I’m a relative.

Diary, I’m scared. I’m terrified, in fact. I feel like every flicker of a light or creak in the floor is someone coming to… to something – kill me, poison me, force me to tell them about R or about how far my parents spread their research on the Parazelli.

Forgive me, my thoughts are completely scattered tonight. I feel a knot in my stomach, and I’m pretty certain that if I try to get up now my whole body will cramp up due to my muscles being so tense.

I don’t know who to ask for help – I don’t know how to help R. But I have to help him. I have to find out what’s

Oh no. Oh no. This is too much. This is just TOO much. My phone just rang, and I answered it, thinking it was R calling me for reassurance that I’ll be there tomorrow morning. Instead, it was his doctor. He said he found my number on a note next to R’s phone and called me. R’s being poisoned. The doctor said that the police are coming in first thing in the morning to interview people at the hospital, because he was being poisoned with snake venom, which is not something that could accidentally have gotten into R’s food by a negligent nurse.

The doctor says R is going to be fine, they’re pumping antidotes into his system. But that’s not what I’m worried about anymore. The Parazelli must be very close, and they’re obviously sending us a message. It’s not like they thought R would die of poison while he’s IN A HOSPITAL. No, this is a warning.

Ok, I have a plan. Not a very elaborate plan, but a plan nonetheless. Something to get me through the night. The plan is this: talk to R tomorrow and figure this out. Yes. Good plan.

I think I better go to my room, Diary, and try to catch some sleep. And tomorrow I shall set my brilliant plan in motion.

Yup.

Lucy

A Barber

In a small room with two mirrors, two swiveling chairs and three stationary ones, in a corner of Tel Aviv often overlooked by ordinary passerby, there is a barber. He seems a quiet man, a tactful man. Though it goes with his profession to be tactful and flattering as a rule, he seems rather sincere and serious when speaking of styles and colors.

Currently, it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking he was religious. The truth, if you inquire a bit, or if you hear him speaking to one of his regulars, is that his father has passed away, and he is in mourning. He is carrying out his mourning period, as is often done even by non-religious Jews, by not cutting his hair and beard and wearing a “Kipa”, a skullcap. The death of his father, not two weeks past, seems to weigh heavily upon him, because although his face lights up with a dazzling smile when greeting a true friend, it is fallen and tired the rest of the time.

All day long, he is on his feet without rest, charming and flattering the elderly women who come to get their hair dyed, joking with the men who come for a shave, welcoming in the stray stranger who finds his little shop. Despite being small, it is always overcrowded – he has dozens of regular customers, all popping in on their way to and from work, bringing their children and their dogs, making appointments on the fly or writing down their numbers for him to call them back and make proper engagements.

The warmth, the quiet chaos as customers change places constantly in the cramped shop, the kindness of the proprietor – all make the little spot a diamond in the rough of the Tel Aviv streets.