What compels you to write? Is writing an act of comfort, or of distress? Which boundaries does the writer establish, and which does the writer break?
My colleagues Robert and Paul, in recent posts (start here, then here), have begun a conversation about feeling authentic as a writer, and what it takes to push through doubts about how one’s work might be received. Weighing in here, I feel that my perspective is somewhere between Robert’s and Paul’s. I agree with Paul about writing for oneself above all (and if others like it, great); however, I also recognize Robert’s focus on doubt as a way of processing and growing as a writer.
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was old enough to write. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, but somehow I have managed to hang on to a series of little books I made when I must have been around 6 or 7 years old – sometime around 1974 or 1975. It’s a series of eighteen booklets in which each title starts with “How to take care of your…” and then there is some part of the anatomy – feet, nose, shoulders, eyes, and many more, including freckles for some reason (I’ve never had freckles) and even “beard and mustash” (very odd – I was anticipating future me, I guess). I used a different color construction paper for each title. Each has four pages with statements and drawings, and overall they come off as very naïve little how-to books, which… is exactly what they are.
Seeing the books again, I remember that every aspect of the bookmaking process delighted me: planning the pages, stapling everything together, plotting what body part I would do next and which color cover I would use. I must say that I’m grateful to my parents for setting me loose with crayons, paper and a stapler!
And that’s the main point that hits me now, in relation to feeling at home as a writer – the confidence and joy I felt in “publishing” these booklets as a child. As an adult, even though I know about the wider world of publishing houses, the competition for sales, the damage that can be done by a single review, and many other perilous parameters, I try to stay focused on just writing to the best of my ability. One certainly does improve with practice, I think we can all attest, although it is also true that new circumstances may emerge that shake one’s confidence, and then the process must begin again.
Why was I compelled to make these books about body parts? I don’t recall ever having any interest in becoming a medical professional. Perhaps naturism explains it: it’s around that age that children become more aware of their own bodies, and in my case, it was during the same period I started running around the room naked, just for the sheer exhilaration of feeling my full body in movement. Ray Steven’s novelty song “The Streak” was a huge hit at the time and it certainly inspired me (though I only knew the song – I had not seen the very clever video until recently). I was aware of how good it felt to uncover my skin – and also I was aware of the need to protect it. ‘How to take care of your skin’ includes these pearls of wisdom: “Don’t make holes in your skin” and “Don’t try to shed your skin like a snake.” (I think sometimes I was just trying to fill pages, or maybe I just really wanted to draw a snake on that page!)
It’s fairly easy to mark the trajectory from the child who made these little booklets to the adult who writes naturist novels, especially when focusing on naturism as body acceptance, body awareness, respect for one’s own body as well as respect for the bodies of others, all within a larger respect for nature, of which we form a part. An observation I wrote down in my journal, somewhere around age 20-22, still holds for me as my goal:
To perceive the world as a child does, while realizing the social, humanistic, and scientific realms of adulthood, is truly to have the best of both worlds. For as adults, we have experienced some things so many times as to surpass novelty, but the child lives each day in sensory wonderment, because his curiosity and imagination treat all things as new and meaningful.
Naturism and sensory wonderment go hand in hand. I find that to write as a naturist is not to be naïve, but rather to be open to wonder, and to have the confidence as a writer that one has with one’s own body.