What do you say to your mother when she proposes a business based on four-letter words? “I’m actually more conservative than my mom,” said Sarah Shannon of Echo Park. “I was concerned about offending people.” But after overcoming her initial concerns, Sarah Shannon, 29, decided to team up with her mother Gretchen Shannon, 57, to form Obscenity Stones, which sells ceramic stones and key chains engraved with four-letter words and off-color and amusing phrases. The intention of these stones is not to offend but to help release tension, emotion and get a good laugh in the process. The idea for this offbeat business was born when Gretchen Shannon, an artist who lives in Laguna Beach, needed a way to express her anger and frustration as she fought against breast cancer. She explains:
I was having a particularly bad several days after a chemo treatment. Before my diagnosis, I was a very prolific artist, and during treatment I lost the desire to create much of anything. On this particular day, the idea to create a “fuck stone” seemed like the best way to release what I was feeling. That was it, end of story. The following year my brother in law was diagnosed with cancer, and I sent him one. He loved it and showed it to friends, that was when the orders started.
Gretchen Shannon turned to her daughter, a former musician, in Echo Park to set up the business to turn the stones into a business venture.
Sarah Shannon proposed posting a”warming” disclaimer on their company’s website but her mother opposed that idea. “I came to realize that it’s impossible to yield to everyone’s sensitivities,”said Sarah Shannon. “If these stones help someone who is struggling, someone who is in pain, someone who is frustrated, and provides them an avenue to express these emotions in a peaceful and humorous way, that makes me feel like I’m helping someone. And that sounds good to me.”
The following is a Q & A with Gretchen Shannon about Obscenity Stones
Q: Did you have a problem expressing your feelings?
A: Only anger. I never liked confrontation. I always thought expressing anger was un-ladylike and ineffective. It made me uncomfortable. Expressing gratitude, joy, love, and kindness was always easy. Women of my generation lived under different codes of behavior. Anger and confrontation were defiant behaviors and went counter to the expected feminine behaviors of being soft spoken, composed and pliant. We could be strong, but needed to maintain our composure.
Q: Do you have strong feelings about the use of profanity in speech?
A: Depends on how it’s used. I feel there are appropriate and inappropriate arenas for it. When it’s just used in casual conversation with friends or when I drop something and break it or stub my toe, I think it’s harmless. When it’s used in an aggressive way directed negatively towards someone, then I think its use begins to walk a tightrope.
Q: How have people reacted?
A: “Complete ah-ha moments. It’s been totally positive. The stones provoke a story; people just start laughing when they see them. Even my licensing agent responded to them immediately and it takes quite a lot to move him. My very wise mother said “I think you’ve got something there.
Q: Where have the words and phrases come from?
A: “The ideas just flow. I’m an artist and once I start to make things, the ideas just come. One feeds into the next.
Q: Which ones have proved the most popular?
A: Hands down, the “fuck stone.” People are just immediately drawn to it.