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Tara's Advice

Writer Blocked

Dear Tara,
My problem is a real doozy, I hope you can help. For about two years now, I've written humorous columns for an "alternative" local magazine, and, heretofore, I've been allowed to write pretty much anything I wanted. Suddenly the magazine is trying to be more respectable, and I'm no longer allowed to write about my two favorite subjects: sex and drugs. But what can I write about now? I can't think of ANYTHING. As one columnist to another, I'm begging you for help!
Signed, Bowdlerized in Burlingame

Dear Bowd,
It's almost impossible for me to empathize with your situation, as it's one that I've never had to deal with in my life. In fact, here at Metropolitan I have the exact opposite problem. I say, "Hey guys: cannibal lesbian nuns--what d'ya think? Cover story?" The editorial staff rolls its jaded eyes and replies, "Cover story? Girl, here at Metropolitan cannibal lesbian nuns isn't even a puff piece." Then they all derisively laugh at me.

But because the censorship issue is such a juicy one, I'll try to put myself in your shoes. You see, Bowd, I think you're laboring under the romantic, 19th-century idea that art is about freedom, when art is really about limits--the creative use of limits.

Titanic was a great movie because it knew what it was: a flick about the tragic sinking of a legendary ship. Imagine if Titanic's producers didn't recognize their limits and tried to throw in everything and the kitchen sink: "Okay, so far we've got a disaster period piece, a Merchant-Ivory does Towering Inferno thing. But it's not enough, dammit! Let's give Kate Winslet a wisecracking pet warthog to reach The Lion King demographic. And get Leo to ice his nipples, a la Showgirls. And we need something 'now,' something gritty and CNN. Instead of an iceberg, what if the boat hits an airplane flown by a 7-year-old. . .a 7-year-old beauty-pageant winner who's secretly a . . . a white-supremacist presidential aide! And we need a rap group. . . the girl can be in a white-supremacist rap group. Now THAT's a movie!"

You see, Bowd, limits are your friends. It's good that you can't write about sex and drugs. Narrowing your subject matter will force you to be more creative. Personally, I always like non-sex-and-drugs puppy and kitten stories. And rain, it sure is raining a lot. Now, you don't want to go crazy and overshoot here, but how about a funny column about puppies and kittens getting wet out in the rain? Then maybe later they go inside and get dry.

But that's plenty. Stop right there.
Yours, Tara

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From the February 21, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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