Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What subject is taboo? (08/15/08)



Featured writer: Betty Rodgers



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Betty Rodgers
Bree LeMaire
Christine Falcone
David Hoag
Don Edgers
Paula Matzinger
Rodney Merrill
T.D. Munroe


What Subject is Taboo?

by Betty Rodgers

Sure, you start to write at some point in your life and quickly learn that personal experience brings out the best results, fact or fiction. So you start with a poem about the lemon yellow daffodil in your bulb garden, how its blossom soon fades, relinquishing itself to the cycle of life. Nice image. Interesting? Nah.

Next, you learn that to write is to read. Read authors you admire and genres you enjoy in order to inspire creativity. It's even possible to emulate other writers in your own practice. Put your own spin to their style and idea and voilá, a successful piece of writing. You're making progress.

Yet the more you read, the more it occurs to you that the most powerful creative writing is, again, informed by personal experience. Furthermore, these experiences are generally not the happy-face variety. No facades here. You must spade into your vulnerability, your disappointments, your human frailty.

Okay, so big-flagpole red flag. You've learned over the years not to divulge anything about yourself or those dear to you that might alarm other people, particularly your mother. It's called inhibition. People get hurt when you write about the cousin who was repeatedly raped by a close friend of the family when she was a girl (although it clearly would help the rest of the family to understand her dysfunction better).

But even as you attempt to carry it deeper, you resist the idea of divulging how you feel about losing the ability to have children, for instance, or the vivid memory you carry of burying a spouse. Your heels dig in for the duration.

Betty Rodgers is happily preparing for her upcoming role as mother-of-the-bride, and pleased to report that tomatoes are finally starting to ripen in her Boise garden. You can reach her at bettykrodgers@msn.com.

What subject is taboo?

  by Arlene L. Mandell

This is a very uncomfortable topic. The verboten subject for me has always been religion. I donʼt understand how anyone can believe "the word of God" handed down over thousands of years by men (rarely, if ever, women) translated, transcribed, and invoked to justify slavery, torture, and murder (as in smiting oneʼs enemies). I am stunned into silence whenever someone cites God as the source of all things, and appalled by the way politicians manipulate religion to divide and oppress "others" who donʼt worship in their way.

As a dedicated author and poet, Iʼm also extremely careful when invoking "nature" as an alternate explanation for the mysteries and injustices of life. I simply offer what small insights I can and try to be kind to all living things.


Arlene L. Mandell

Santa Rosa, CA


What Subject is Taboo?

  by Betty Rodgers

Sure, you start to write at some point in your life and quickly learn that personal experience brings out the best results, fact or fiction. So you start with a poem about the lemon yellow daffodil in your bulb garden, how its blossom soon fades, relinquishing itself to the cycle of life. Nice image. Interesting? Nah.

Next, you learn that to write is to read. Read authors you admire and genres you enjoy in order to inspire creativity. It's even possible to emulate other writers in your own practice. Put your own spin to their style and idea and voilá, a successful piece of writing. You're making progress.

Yet the more you read, the more it occurs to you that the most powerful creative writing is, again, informed by personal experience. Furthermore, these experiences are generally not the happy-face variety. No facades here. You must spade into your vulnerability, your disappointments, your human frailty.

Okay, so big-flagpole red flag. You've learned over the years not to divulge anything about yourself or those dear to you that might alarm other people, particularly your mother. It's called inhibition. People get hurt when you write about the cousin who was repeatedly raped by a close friend of the family when she was a girl (although it clearly would help the rest of the family to understand her dysfunction better).

But even as you attempt to carry it deeper, you resist the idea of divulging how you feel about losing the ability to have children, for instance, or the vivid memory you carry of burying a spouse. Your heels dig in for the duration.

Betty Rodgers is happily preparing for her upcoming role as mother-of-the-bride, and pleased to report that tomatoes are finally starting to ripen in her Boise garden. You can reach her at bettykrodgers@msn.com.

What subject is taboo?

  by Bree LeMaire

The hardest, hardest thing for me to write are sentences that resonate with deep-down inside emotions. They are the ones that vibrate and verify my soul. This includes stories of my childhood abuse or a marriage that died midstream or my own separation from an infant daughter.

My writings of denial are effortless. Humor is the first door I open. That is followed by those endless descriptions, narrations and empty journalings that dance around the edge of emotions. It's easy to laugh off my thoughts, dismiss them, rationalize, minimize and write my way to a colorless Antarctica when my crumbling ice is right here in San Francisco.

There was a time when I wanted to write pornography. It seemed safe, easily plot driven, except that I wasn't adept at coming up with innovative settings and like all geographic maneuvers, I took myself with me.

Edna St. Vincent Milay said, "Pity the heart that's slow to learn what the quick mind knows at every turn."

It's fun to swear, shock and grab the reader with outlandish turns that barely scratch the surface of my life's lessons. My mind is an agile escape artist. The taboos reside just under my sternum, while I work overtime to camouflage my difficulties of expression from an honest heart.

Bree LeMaire is at work on a mystery novel. She has completed the first draft with a murder in chapter one followed by twenty-nine chapters void of red herrings, hints or even the gun on the mantel. It all comes sort of together at the end in chapter 37.

What Subject is Taboo?

  by Christine Falcone

I made a list of subjects that might be considered taboo: sex, rape, pedophilia, torture, religion, politics, odd habits of family and friends, homosexuality, stealing, lying, adultery, addiction, masturbation, child abuse, prostitution, animal cruelty, arson, depression, suicide, obesity, cross-dressing.

Sometimes just telling the truth feels taboo, too.

Ever since I can remember, I've been plugged into an emotional landscape. It's almost like I'm wearing night vision goggles that allow me to see feelings -- those transparent webs that run through groups such as families and friends, co-workers, even strangers -- and its taken me years to get to a point where I accept it as real, not the fictitious workings of my imagination. Now at least I can trust myself, even if putting these things down on paper feels like I'm doing something wrong.

But isn't this the very heart of the matter? What we're aiming at as writers? There's a big, red target on the TRUTH and if we're careful and time things right, we just may get a bull's eye. But if we listen to that voice that says, no, no, don't write that. You'll get in trouble, the truth will remain untold.

Christine Falcone lives and writes in Novato, California, where she's rolling up her sleeves, climbing back in the trenches and preparing to completely revise her novel for the fifth time!

Deemed Obscene

  by David Hoag

What subject is taboo? In 1964, on the Supreme Court, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, "I can't define it but I know it when I see it."

For a workshop, I wrote a creative piece, a short story about a gorgeous stripper performing at the fictional Jaguar Club; about her relationship with the club owner; about how she tried to turn her life around and wanted to become a school teacher; about her new boyfriend:

"Ron met her on his second day back. He'd earned a week off from his truck driving job and felt like going out for a beer and some relaxation, this time solo. She was on stage doing her routine and was striking with long hair down to her bare shoulder blades … dark, with a few silver streaks… spots … dark brown sugar skin … legs looked like those of a gymnast or maybe a speed runner. Top-half … not built for speed … luscious … invigorating … intoxicating. He wondered what might be lost, or gained, in a place like this."

The instructor was quite encouraging but one of my fellow work-shoppers wrote, "David, your story had some good description with all the types of flowers and the small, spreading, sweet smelling lavender rose bush breathed its luster most all summer long. … … … I just have such a hard time with this story because it is all so degrading to women and such a misuse of sex that it is hard to comment on. Sorry. Anita."

Her words stung. I'd thought for days, weeks about how to respond to Anita's comments; feeling something like, "I'm a Christian, damn it! If Flannery O'Connor can write about grace with the Grandmother dealing with the Misfit in, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,' then exploring the sexuality of our culture in the present time seems like a noble effort. O'Connor wrote about a traveling family murdered one-by-one. I simply wrote about a twenty-something looking for redemption. "

Further, I wanted to defend my writing by comparing myself to Flannery O'Connor, who when asked by a college professor what her story meant replied, "… It is stylized and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious. …" She concluded, "My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock."

At this instant, I'm no longer feeling stung but my emotions have migrated to the analytical part of my cerebrum. "What is it about pornography? Not why did Anita deem my story obscene?" Her construal effected bruising responses in the recesses of my common sense. I could've e-mailed my elucidation out to her that she needed to keep the difference between the narrator and the author straight.

I guess I'll just break down and do further research on what Justice John Potter Stewart said about pornography; with my writing, that is.

David Hoag is an Eagle, ID writer trying to figure out, “What stands in the way of writing good spiritual literary fiction?”dhrunwalk@gmail.com




‘Tis Personal

  by Don Edgers

Taboo - This Polynesian word, meaning ‘forbidden', was introduced into the English language by the explorer Captain Cook, probably just before he brought up the subject of, "What's cookin' good lookin'?" to the king/chief's wife when she wasn't preparing a meal. Shortly thereafter Cook's life ended.

The Lord God placed Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned them, "You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die." (NLT Holy Bible)

When Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, started enquiring about why they were living east of Eden instead of the Garden, the subject was, no doubt, taboo.

In my family many subjects were taboo - one, particular to me, concerning a childhood experience. One of my teenage brothers, as he was getting into a friend's car, planted a taboo idea into my inexperienced brain with the admonition: "Don't hang onto the bumper when we drive off!" My DNA, like everyone else's picked up the "ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain" gene and I managed to hang on until the car reached about 25 MPH, whereupon I body surfed a considerable distance on the road, scoring a perfect 10 (according to bystanders), before being rendered unconscious.

Political Correctness, to those who hold to that tenet, makes multiple labels, words or subjects - taboo. To the likes of the late George Carlin, free speech advocates and the "incorrect," the word ‘taboo' isn't in their vocabulary.


Personally, the one subject that is taboo is ‘perversion.'

Don, a retired high school teacher and dabbler in writing, lives with his wife, Carolyn, west of Puget Sound in Port Orchard, WA. His Website = www.anislandintime.com




What subject is taboo?

  by Paula Matzinger

What is taboo to me
is not to you
or to you, not to me
say, sex, sex, sex
or piss, pee, poo
kids or politics
or death
or the F Word
the C Word
the un-PC Word
or super size me
with extra cheese
or raw milk
or randy talk
at the office
at the shoe store
or when he
grabbed my thigh
I thought he knew
what is me
is only for you.

To you
I can't talk about you.
To me
the glass-half-empty
is Taboo.
And I can't write about
what we said in bed
or identify who F'd
our child up (God, I never swear!)
not you
but someone we knew
someone
that didn't draw the same line
as us
who can you trust?

when the tables turn
and spin on end
and you don't know
which way is _ucked!

Taboo to me
is subject to you.

Paula Matzinger—presently a poet and painter; formerly a landscape architect and graphic artist; always a wife and mother—lives in Sebastopol painting and writing about the scenes and moments that affect her—light and shadow, stillness and movement, reflection and humor.


Anything Taboo?

  by Rodney Merrill

I cannot imagine any subject being taboo for me. I do have reservations about how the subject is handled, however. I will not write with the intention of humiliating or degrading someone for sport. I have a sharp wit and a facility for language that would allow me to do easily, effectively, and efficiently. But, for me, using my abilities to bully is taboo.

Rodney Merrill of Astoria, Oregon has managed to find the time to send up a flare as he pursues his PhD.

Musings on Taboo

  by T.D. Munroe

I don't like to hold hands, covers a multitude of sins—quickly followed by, love is personal…private, and needs no witnesses. The truth is I'm terrified that one day the tenuous bonds of "tolerance" and restraint will break, and we'll suffer. You will suffer. And so for now, some things are better loved in secret.

T.D. Munroe of Ithaca, NY is trying mightily hard to light one candle in all the darkness.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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