Boundaries for Writers 101

To writers, everything is a writing prompt, topic of conversation, or both. Every life event, joy, tragedy, fear, hope, injury, bodily fluid…they are all fair game, waiting to be explored and communicated.

It has been my experience that to non-writers though, most of these areas are taboo in public, should be held close to the vest, discussed only when appropriate to very close friends.  As a result, I had a hell of a time growing up because I wanted to talk about everything. I often got the raised eyebrow or the “don’t talk about that, we’re eating!” lecture.  I’d look up and wonder, “What did I say?” I don’t mean sexually inappropriate themes here I just mean, well, for example:

Two weeks ago, my daughter and I attended a luncheon with a bunch of local horror writers (novels, short stories, screenplays, etc). Some I’d met before, some I hadn’t. Over appetizers, we somehow all got on the subject of insects. One woman offered that her husband had once brought home a mating pair of giant cockroaches for pets. We laughed. I said I used to have chameleons as pets and fed them mealworms.  Another writer informed us that mealworms were no longer the recommend food as they often eat their way out. We all nodded appreciatively for the information. Who knew? There followed the telling of a woman’s story of ants in her ceiling insulation cascading down on her in a creepy frenzy of legs, antennae, and fiberglass. We got a fun chill out of that one.

My daughter ventured her story about tiny ants feasting on and covering a mound of moving rice (aka maggots) under the trash barrel in the garage; and finished with her remembered exclamation/punch line “Eww, that’s not rice!” We laughed again. The favorite of mine was when the last writer told his tale about his pet tarantula which had a near-fatal accident when something fell on him and cracked his carapace. He explained that they don’t heal, or scab up. The little guys just die. But alas, this man superglued the carapace together and the spider lived happily ever after, with just a scar to show for his NDE.  We cheered. Then we passed around our cell phones to show pictures of our cats and dogs.

Three hours later, we left. You just can’t get that level of bonding with near strangers if everyone is very careful about what they say, or are too mindful of which issues are or aren’t acceptable. With writers (or any group of free thinking folks) when you open up yourself to others by sharing stories from deep within, you often find strangers have more in common than you’d ever expect.

Maybe a cluster of black beetles swarming together and clicking their wings on a sticky summer night is something people want to avoid. But others jump into the dark fearful cloud to find fireflies that spread their wings, illuminating the starry night with their hidden magical and timeless glow. 

Don’t be afraid to talk about the rancid meat and dirty potatoes that build life’s memories. Our experiences, good or bad, make us who we are.  If that means talking about spider carapaces over nachos, I say bring it on.