They find me where the clearing meets
the trees and night and light cross.
from “Wild Mothers” by Eloise Klein Healy
Boundaries – I relearn how to create them over and over again. Just now, I am eager to set some that let me step away for a bit to stare out over a field or a wide swath of still, calm water.
I am reminded, again, that I alone control the access that people have to me.
One evening, I sat in a room wrapped up in the powerful presence of Joan Didion. She was talking about her book The Year of Magical Thinking, and I was fascinated in a way I could not then explain but now realize came from my firm awareness – an awareness I’d had quietly since I was very young – that my mother was going to die long, long before I was ready for her to go.
I listened as Didion talked about her grief, about her husband’s sudden death and her daughter’s vast illness, and I marveled at the way she was able to wrap language around such huge, shadowy things.
Afterwards, an acquaintance remarked – with a pejorative tone and strong dose of judgmentalism – that he couldn’t imagine how she could share that much of her personal life so publicly. I could imagine him saying, “That’s family business.”
Except of course it was Didion’s family she had lost.
As writers, many of us give a pretty wide-open view into ourselves. We know that the boundaries between public and private are malleable, porous. We play with them. We each decide what drawers of our personal mystery cabinets we will pull open.
Didion slid open the largest drawer and let us peek in, I expect, because she needed to do so. She is a writer after all, and one who has said, famously,
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
As a writer, I am fairly open for the same reasons. Other writers are more closed, inching open the drawers instead of tugging them lose from the slides and flinging their contents wide.
Any boundary is the right one for any writer, as long as it’s chosen not slipped into because of fear.
At this moment in my writing life, I feel the need to shutter away a bit – tuck myself into the shadows at the edge of the clearing a bit more. Hold stories a little tighter.
Some may find that a writer’s decisions – or any person’s decisions – to engage or not are off-putting or condescending or arrogant. I feel that way sometimes, too, especially when I so desperately want to connect.
But then I remind myself that we all need the space to breath and write and live. We can’t leave all the drawers hanging open all the time because if we do, nothing has time hide and surprise us again, a tiny beautiful notebook tucked into a dark corner, waiting to be re-read.
What boundaries do you set up around what you will write and with whom you will share it?
Today, Ken Mueller of Inkling Media wrote a great post about information overload and boundaries. I loved this section:
You have the choice as to whether or not to turn on your computer. You control which social platforms you use and frequent. And on each platform, you can not only control which individuals, businesses, and news sources you connect with, you can control how much of them you see. You can even control your various privacy settings. You can get as little or as much information as you want.
Go check it out and weigh in.