I began writing this blog with no clear idea how to use the ‘boudoir’ part of the title. Today I’m meandering, but bear with me and let’s see where we can go together. Along the lines of ‘favorite words’, I segued into considering a blog topic I’ve been itching to hit for months now: boundaries.
Often, I begin academic papers by reviewing one or two concepts and their accepted (and usually inaccurate) definitions. This often leads me to a nice little procrastination where, paper forgotten, I lose track of time flipping to one page or another tracing etymology and the nuanced differences in meaning between presumably similar concepts. Only another writer would understand this compulsion (whether or not you share it).
I read dictionaries.
And let’s not neglect my new favorite, The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2nd Ed. ‘Oxy’ (and yes, I’ve named my car, laptop, and brown cowboy boots ~ if you love it, name it) is 4lbs of well-thumbed, literary goodness ‘bound’ with duct tape and covered with unknown food and beverage stains.
Oxy, my steadfast companion, tells us of several words clustered around the noun, ‘boundary’.
division . . . cutoff point . . . limits . . .periphery . . .perimeter . . . partitions . . . margins . . . edges . . . fringes . . . perimeter . . . limits . . .parameters . . .confines, . . . ambit . . . compass
A counselor once shared the notion of healthy and unhealthy ‘boundaries’ with me when I confided how guilty I felt in disappointing others by not anticipating their needs (and yes, as I type, I’m reminded of this irrationality.
Everyone does this to some extent because we all struggle with setting ‘invisible barriers between self and others, limits beyond which will we will not go and beyond which others are not welcome. A good sense of where our feelings/opinions start and stop and where another person’s feelings/opinions begin and end comes with experience and wisdom’ (so, I think you have to be 39 or maybe 43 ~ am not sure who explained this, maybe my mother).
The handouts my one-time counselor, now good friend, provided didn’t have the originating author to whom I can attribute the previous definition or the following concepts, but I would happily do so. This material did not originate with me or my research. I do, however, use it to remind myself about boundaries (inviolate, even sacred) and borders (possibly crossed by invitation). I’ve found myself considering this material in looking at my characters, especially as a way to demonstrate internal conflict.
Letting go of responsibility for the uncontrollable demands a boundary, something absolute over which you can stand guard. Thus, dividing line, cutoff point, limits, periphery, perimeter, or confine capture the definitive nature of this critical life skill.
From the aforementioned handouts, I’ve culled a few of the 20 responses to the rallying cry for the boundary-less, ‘it is never my responsibility to’:
- drain my strength for others in doing more than I have time to do (so weird we need a reminder of self-care when we nag friends on this point, but . . .)
- be anyone but exactly who I am or apologize for being myself (especially when doing so harms no one)
- endure my own negative thoughts (perhaps self-flagellation was fashionable at one time, but give it up, sweetheart, it’s a crappy way to live)
- meekly let life pass me by (think Dylan Thomas . . . ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light)
- sacrifice my integrity to anyone (it’s all about choice, isn’t it?)
Why should we consider these boundaries? Perhaps if only to be clear on how they might, for each of us, differ from borders in terms of frequency, severity, or saturation.
Borders warrant more flexibility, even negotiation and a decision rule or two. Partitions, margins, edges, fringes, perimeter, limits, parameters, confines, ambit, and compass might mean less absolute than important touchstones to retaining our sense of self. Consider borders as useful reminders, especially when well-kept and patrolled regularly.
Signs of unhealthy boundaries range from talking intimately to a stranger, to letting others define you, or accepting food, gifts, touch, sex, favors you don’t want.
What can writers learn? Aside from continuing to protect your writing time and creative energy, we can demonstrate these tensions in our characters when they ‘have negative thoughts’, ‘apologize for self-expression’, or ‘act as people-pleasers’. Our readers will get this on an intuitive level just as they understand the self-destructive behaviors and scenarios attendant to unhealthy boundaries.
So, what would you add to the ‘it is never my responsibility to’ list? Have you used these concepts to demonstrate a character arc in your work? And, most importantly, do you read the dictionary too?
PS: And yes, because I honed a boundary or two, I painted my boudoir purple. Hah! You didn’t think I remembered.