Express yourself. Just the phrase conjures up freedom, doesn’t it? Let the real you show. Use whatever means that works best for you to convey your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, what have you.
Just like plunking in a couple of quarters in a jukebox, flipping through the song options, and pressing a corresponding number on the buttons, an instant tune from the past comes to my mind when I read that phrase. A song entitled “Express Yourself” from 1970 by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band sounds from the jukebox speakers in my mind.
“Express yourself! Express yourself! You don’t never need help from nobody else.
All you got to do now; Express yourself! Whatever you do, uh, do it good…”
That photo challenge theme this week – express yourself – is still running through my mind. Even though it’s a challenge to showcase a photograph, I always seem to find something to say in written form as well. I guess I just always have the need to express myself verbally even in photo challenges.
When I view the world around me, there is a whole lot of expressing going on with a lot of freedom but not much of it is done well. Or done for good purposes. Or done to uplift and encourage our fellow travelers here on earth.
Folks express themselves in tirades on Facebook. In online news and off, magazines, and on television. In denigrating comments on the internet. And there’s a lot of verbal garbage being thrown around everywhere you look.
And while we do have the right to free speech, when did that speech become so inundated with words from the gutter? When did filth, demeaning and disgusting descriptions become socially acceptable? My ears are assaulted with foul language just walking down the street and frankly, I’m getting tired of those expressing themselves without any boundaries.
I just checked out a number of books from the public library and in doing so, I decided to take a little detour away from my usual fiction. Instead of searching out some of my favorite authors, I decided to wander up and down the library aisles, books to the right of me, books to the left, perusing titles on the spines of so many editions lined up like soldiers in formation as I meandered. If a title grabbed my attention, I slipped the book off the shelf, opened it, and read the quick synopsis on the inside dust jacket.
Some of them disturbed me immediately and they were promptly returned to the library shelf. But at last, I found one that sounded like an interesting story, one of transformation and redemption if I could believe the reviews and the short description of the novel.
That book came home with me along with my usual novelists and some non-fiction as well. But as I settled down to read this variation from the norm, I was assaulted by the very first paragraph dropping the f-bomb right in my lap.
When did ‘good writing’ resort to the use of this word on practically every page of a book? When did a work by “one of our most important and original writers,” according to one reviewer, become littered by graphic descriptions of sexual acts? And this was certainly not one of those torrid romance novels by any stretch of the imagination, nor was it that shades of a certain color novel. Let’s call it what it is. Pornography.
I closed the book, disgusted not just in the words printed on the pages but in myself for choosing such a disappointing read. I reopened the book to the last page of the dust jacket to check out the author. A woman. An award-winning novelist with books that have been translated into several languages. A writer that one reviewer gloated about wanting to travel with on ‘the journey called life.’
Okay, I’m not Pollyanna but I, for one, do not want to travel on a journey of life like the one described in this book. I know the world is full of disgusting, filthy, vile people and things. I witness enough of that in front of my very eyes and every time I turn on the TV, read an article online or in print. I get that. But I do not agree that slime should be touted as award-winning and I certainly am not willing to make such degrading ‘literature’ my journey of life.
Isn’t it enough that the real world is so ugly? Why does the make-believe world of fiction have to be the same?
If this is the kind of garbage that makes you a writer winning fame, accolades, and publishing contracts, then I want no part of it. I’ve read a lot of classical literature both during my college days as an English major and in adulthood and can’t recall one time that any of those eloquent and articulate masters of the written word dived into the depths of cesspools that writers do today.
I do not want to fill my mind with garbage by taking it in through my eyes or any other of my senses. And I firmly believe that when garbage goes in, it comes back out, something I used to remind my children as they were growing up to caution them about what they watched, read, and listened to.
I relegated that book back to my library bag for an immediate return and opened another volume of what I usually read – while not always written by Christian authors, it is what I call ‘clean lit.’ Ironically, when I finished reading that book, I noticed something sticking between the plastic sheet covering the book and the dust jacket. Someone had left a bookmark there. Accidentally or intentionally, I do not know.
But I know this. It was encouraging to see. The front was a well-known scripture, which you can see in this photo, and on the back were these words, “The Lord bless thee.”
Maybe, I thought, I should stick that bookmark in that other vile book. Maybe someone reading that garbage would need reminding that God loves her or him very much. Maybe it would show what real love is, not the immoral lust that book contained.
I know one thing. At no point do I want to find myself in a putrid, stinking pit again either in my own very real life, in reading, or in the one I express through my writing. Because I do express myself. I express myself in words that spring from my mouth and those words emerge from my heart. Words that take form in the recesses of my mind. Words that often easily surge from my inner self to my fingers as I type onto the computer screen before me.
And I want those words to be uplifting, not debasing. To be encouraging, not degrading. To be enlightening, not corrupting. Just as that left behind bookmark encouraged me.
There is enough ugliness in this world, but my hope is fixed on something much nobler. So I will continue to express myself using the following scripture as my guideline.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” ~ Philippians 4:8
And I’ll be more discerning over my choice of ‘literature.’
“All that a man is outwardly is but the expression and completion of his inward thought. To work effectively he must think clearly. To act nobly he must think nobly.” ~ William Ellery Channing