Dear Ms. Behavior:
I am a screenwriter with a long-term case of writer’s block. I’ve taken many workshops and classes for inspiration, but nothing has helped.
Recently, I talked to my friend, Ada, and the conversation turned to her tumultuous relationship with her abusive ex-girlfriend, Robin. Ada told me about their horrible fights, their sex life, and their long drawn-out legal battle.
That night, I sat down to work on my screenplay, and it all just came pouring out onto the page: Ada’s story as a scene in a movie. I worked on it all night, and for the next couple of days. It was great.
A couple of days later, I was hanging out with Ada, and she asked to use my computer. You can guess what happened next. The scene was open on my desktop, and Ada read it.
Ordinarily, I never would write about a friend without asking her permission. I normally would change many details, including names, locations, and anything that seemed too personal. But I had written these scenes quickly, and hadn’t gotten around yet to disguising the material.
Ada seemed quite shocked to read all the private information she’d told me, and I felt terrible. I apologized, and deleted the scene immediately. Ada seemed to forgive me.
The problem is that I’m obsessed with the story Ada told me. That scene was the best thing I’ve written in years.
Would it be OK for me to take the scene out of the “trash” on my computer, and reuse it, as long as I change some details?
Dear Desperate Writer:
Writers are notorious for stealing stories from their friends, their foes, and any unwitting passerby prone to self-disclosure. You didn’t do anything intentionally malicious, but you did happen to get caught in an attempted rip-off of your friend’s life. So, you then did what any decent person would do: You apologized, and deleted the incriminating scene.
By acknowledging your mistake, and deleting the scene, you implicitly promised not to use Ada’s entertaining life as fodder for your screenplays anymore. So, retrieving it from the trash on your computer and resurrecting it isn’t kosher, especially if you care about the friendship.
The good news is that you’re back in the writing groove. Ada’s life indeed sounds like a dramatic one, which is what inspired you to tell her story, but lesbian melodramas are a dime a dozen. You surely must have some of your own.
If you really can’t draw from your own life experience, and you need someone else’s story for inspiration, try stepping out of your tired little inner circle. Steal a story from someone more distant and interesting, perhaps a mysterious stranger who happens to travel next to you on a plane or a boat.
Dear Ms. Behavior:
I am a bookish gay man. I met my boyfriend, Al, at the university library four years ago. It always seemed that we had a lot in common, including an interest in literature, music, and science.
But now, Al works out madly, and is developing big muscles. The attention he has been getting since developing huge biceps seems to be like a drug to him. I happen to like skinny, sinewy guys, not muscle-bound freaks.
Is it OK to let him know that I don’t like his new look, and that I wish he’d stop doing his sweaty exercises in the apartment? Or would it be wrong to discourage him from doing something he likes, even if it means that I’m less attracted to him?
Dear Skinny John:
If Al chooses to elevate his endorphins by lifting heavy things, or sprinting around the block, it doesn’t mean his intellect is shrinking.
Your so-called taste in sinewy men shouldn’t dictate how your boyfriend spends his time, nor should you admonish him for garnering praise from those who appreciate a pumped-up physique.
You don’t have to join your boyfriend in working out, but you also shouldn’t try to limit his interests to books, pale skin, and eating lunch at the nerd table.
“I love you just the way you used to be” doesn’t have a reassuring ring, and it’s not very supportive, either. Try to be more flexible and embracing of all that your partner cares about, even if your butt muscles are soft, and you feel superior to people who purposely perspire.
© 2010 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.