For instance, within the past several months, I've written two fiction stories revolving around fetish communities, (not including a spur of the moment 300 word piece for Revolver). Largely, this was spurred by thoughts I've had about modern sexuality, concerning what is and isn't too much and who really, can decide. Is there a too much? Is there a boundary? I feel like some would say there is no boundary. There are no true taboos in the world of internet porn and Craigslist ads calling for 400 dollar an hour film sessions in your small town. But I can't help but get a chill when I think about the realities of some fetishes, the reality of most pornography, and the realities of many taboos created and lost and the selves that are involved.
Fortunately, I don't have to present on any of these pieces at the upcoming National Lit Conference (which I'm terrified/thrilled for), where I need to present some other stuff. I feel like I wouldn't really know what to say...that the characters could explain it better than I could, and yet I'm somehow the voice that explains it through them, and still I couldn't explain it without them.
But anyhow, the first of these stories (the fetish ones) is about a young couple who are experimenting with an online fetish community, and eventually attend a real-life fetish event. As a couple, they approach it with maturity and see the enactments of their fantasies as completely healthy. However, they do encounter some emotional reservations, as can be expected, especially when group sex is involved. My main male character ends up meeting a woman, the dominatrix who owns the house where the party takes place, and basically they have a conversation about their feelings, outside in the snow, wearing latex and chains, while his girlfriend is in the basement having an experience with others (which as a couple as a part of the subculture, they've presumably agreed, is natural). But the question remains hovering about whether any of it is natural. If there even is a definition of what is natural. If nothing and everything all at once are natural or unnatural or neither. It becomes difficult to draw a line between what's acceptable and what isn't, especially in a consensual mature disease-free situation where the participants have regular jobs, families, and identities, and who are professional and tactful in their outer spheres, and who are a part of a sexual subculture in their private spheres
But the story isn't so much about fetishes as it is about moral boundaries and what defines them. Does a moral boundary depend on only perception? Does it depend on anything at all? Does it mean not causing another pain? What if they want that pain and ask for it? Now I risk heading into dangerous moral territory (if I haven't already...it depends on you). But again, this is why I chose fiction for this subject. I couldn't leave it alone, and I couldn't (and wouldn't want to) experiment as my own self. So I created others to experiment, and they basically received no answers, and only more questions. This may be a dissatisfying ending. But to me, it was a real ending, and yes, dissatisfying also. Nothing is resolved or answered. Each character is a little more knowledgeable, a little more contemplative, and a little more experienced, but they still don't know what their moral positioning precisely is. Still, I'd much rather get some thoughts out of me through imagined dialogue, setting, and character quirks than through an all-out analysis (though I do love an all-out analysis) when it comes to a sexual subculture. This kind of thing needs human voices and reactions and contradictions in a way an analysis can't provide.
It makes enormous sense to me in the research I'm doing right now about Herman Melville's friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne to survey the process of writing fiction as approaching divinity, as "playing god," as creating in order to understand but not necessarily control. Writing can definitely seem to be encroaching upon the territory of the divine even if the subject matter doesn't immediately present itself as bearing that much levity. I though, tend to find that all human experience does. We are confounding little beasts.
The other of the two pieces is darker. It's about a bar I went to in Tucson with some girlfriends. We went on a whim, not knowing what the strange yellow boxy establishment had inside, but it ended up being this over-the-top crass bar with an actual sex dungeon in the basement. We had our own little sort of nerve-wracking time there (outside of the basement). Something about the space alone made us feel vulnerable, and none of us are women who like to feel vulnerable, or who can be made to feel vulnerable often. The characters in that story, however, do experience most of what that bar and its dungeon have to offer. They're twenty years old with fake IDs, wishing they were in a bigger city with bigger parties, but this bar is the most happening place, so they go and experience it for what it's worth. But again, this story is all about moral boundaries and how morality cannot really be dictated by others unless it is causing harm without consent. This story has actual violence and blood and even burning, but there isn't anyone there who is participating against their will, including the twenty year old girls.
Still, I couldn't get myself to go into that basement, so I made characters who do, and I still felt a little sick about what I put them through, and the way I experimented with their emotions.
I really don't do well with journaling. Journaling doesn't allow me the truth-seeking that the elemental lies of fiction do allow me, and so freely. Come up with enough lies, and eventually you might get to the truth. Or maybe you were always right on top of it and could never see it. Fiction writing is a gift that, while I'm not pursuing it for my MFA, that I am tremendously grateful to be perpetually exercising. Even if I'm not always writing it and turning it into this letter-laced form it ultimately demands, I am always using what it has taught me to dig for a truth, and for more often than not, several truths, all equally true at once.
Anyhow, I am grateful for these computer keys and their expressive potentials, knowing that we - myself and these letters upon this white blogspace page - are more or less, on each others' side.
Fiction allows me to not take a stance, but to create voices that test their own waters. Taking a stance can often be a pretty dishonest thing to do on something one doesn't understand, and won't admit that they don't understand, so fiction is there to endorse honesty, and at least an attempt at understanding.