Transgressions as Story Fodder

Last week, I attended the Lounge Lit author reading in Cambridge sponsored by the folks at the Boston Book Festival and the literary magazine, the Drum. The theme for the event was Transgressions. Authors read pieces that had to do with lying, cheating, breaking the law and bending the rules. During the break, audience members were given a sheet of paper with a list of transgressions and asked to mark next to those we had committed. I don’t remember all of the questions listed, but some of them were Did you ever have sex in a cab? Did you ever had sex in a moving car? Did you ever have sex in a room with other people? Did you ever steal as a child? As an adult? Did you ever pretend to sympathize with someone, while secretly thinking they deserved what they got? Questions like that.

I was reminded of my past and the mistakes I’ve made, the “crimes” I’ve committed. I thought, wow, why did I forget all of these things? I suppose I wasn’t proud of them and packed them away into the recesses of my memory. But what a wonderful bunch of experiences to draw upon for fiction! There’s all kinds of potential for conflict.

If your own personal history is lacking in transgressions, check out The Apology Line, which you may have heard about on This American Life. It’s a project started in 1980 by Allan Bridge, who set up a telephone line that people could use to call in and confess to something. (This is before the Internet.) The caller would get recorded and others could call in and listen to the confessions. Here’s an example.

Hello, I am an Israeli. I want to apologize, I don’t know if even what I did was wrong or right, but when I was in Israel six months before I killed six Arabs at night with a gang of other Jewish settlers. At the time … I believed we were fighting for our homeland to keep from the Arabs, but perhaps now that I am here in America I realize that maybe that killing is not right way, and I want to apologize. Thank you.

There’s also the confession website, Group Hug. I found this there:

I wondered all day yesterday If you would contact me..
you didn’t
I doubt you will on his birthday either
he would be 2…
blows my mind still…
I’ll have a drink that day for him.. wonder if you will too..

I’m also reminded of Post Secret, the art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Many of the secrets could inspire a story. Or browse the NY Times Ethicist column.

Photo: denharsh / Flickr Creative Commons

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