“Not to Say America is One Big F-bomb…”
My therapist asked me the other day why I swear so much. I am an actress by trade and I was on a tirade about the difficulties of navigating through Hollywood life and my use of F-bombs were in high launch. He didn’t ask why I swear so much in a way that was judgmental or accusatory – he was curious because I was born and raised in the relatively austere society of Singapore and moved here as a teenager. I sounded fairly articulate and came from a highly educated and successful family. Yes, I did pretty much get straight A’s. I’m also a type-A personality; even my blood type is A! I told him that I believe I owe my learning of the F-bomb to Mr. Paulukonis. He was a handsome, hip and irreverent guy who was also my 7th grade homeroom teacher. I believe that Mr. Paulukonis taught me, an innocent Singaporean girl that it was ok to express myself boldly and using an F-bomb here and there inspired me to break the mold that I was born into.
Singaporeans are extremely law-abiding citizens. Singapore is most frequently described as being clean and safe. The Michael Faye caning incident and the ban on chewing gum has been the butt of many jokes; however, on the other side of that is an extremely impressive young country. I remember my parents warning me about becoming “an American hooligan.” From what television and music would seem to portray, we thought America was about sex, drugs and rock & roll. If Singapore was clean, safe, structured and law-abiding, America was its antithesis.
I finally got to see this country with my own eyes when I moved to California as a geeky pre-pubescent teenage immigrant kid. That was over ten years ago. Besides looking absolutely hideous, I had a strange British-Asian-Islander accent to boot. It all added up to the fact that I felt very much like a social pariah and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear forever.
That changed when I met Mr. Paulukonis in homeroom. He told the class that my last name “Yeo” was a greeting in American slang. When the class laughed, it wasn’t a laugh that hurt; it was a laugh that made me feel good. “Yeo Yeo Yeo!” became my nickname. Once in a while he would throw out an F-bomb in the class to the dismay of our school principal but to the delight of the students. With a sparkle in his eye, he artfully timed those gems and I’d see the students throw their heads back in laughter and understanding. It was expressive, funny, painful, angry, irreverent, genuine, artistic & freeing. It connected him to us, and America to me. I got hooked. My virgin ears were now filled with American slang and profanity lessons from my classmates and we had a ball. Something deep inside me was awakened–this spirit, this fire, this fight. Yes, it was a little crude, but nonetheless, it was a power that could knock someone off her chair, enable a deep belly laugh or have someone spit up water through their nose. I felt connected, funny and free. For a girl who came from a different country with a strange accent, it gave me the key to a secret language, an entry way into America.
This is not to say America is one big F-bomb, for goodness sakes. America is an incredibly textured and diverse country that has been generous to me. I graduated summa cum laude from high school, phi beta kappa from college, and I followed that fire within into the wild wild west of Hollywoodland. And yes, I am proud to say I have a respectable career in the entertainment industry. As an actor, I am never really at a loss for words because I have the privilege of using the language of different authors to communicate. However, in life I am hardly as articulate. So sometimes, if proper language is not in reach and I am filled with emotion, instead of throwing a chair I remember what I learned to believe in Mr. Paulukonis’ 7th grade homeroom where he taught me, with a twinkle in his eye, that secret language of F-bombs which tickled my instrument. An instrument now turned into a vessel of expression, and in turn, my occupation.
Of course, I say this with the proviso that all tickles and twinkles preferably be limited to adult conversations or in the privacy of my therapist’s office.
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