It is a fairly difficult thing to face a blank page every single day. I usually win in the battle to write something every day. But not always. Some days it is just too hard. Some days I am not well enough to make my stupid old brain spin up a spider-web of words. Some days the words are just Teufelsscheiße (poop coming out of the Devil in German).
But staring at a blank page today got me thinking about the process again, how the words come, where they come from, and why.
I just finished the most successful free-book promotion I have ever had. I gave away more books than ever before, and I gave some away every single day of the promotion. Some who downloaded the e-book even thanked me and told me they would read it. One even promised to read it right after he finished reading one of my other books.
Of course, you can see that this novel has nudist characters in it, and it is even set in a nudist park. So, naturally, the copies were mostly grabbed by members of the Twitter-nudist circle of friends and acquaintances I have on Twitter. But it is thrilling to know someone is actually going to read one, or even two of my books. I haven’t gotten enough of that feeling as an author. It is one of the main purposes of my writing, to have readers.
But this post is supposed to be about process, not publication. So, how did I come to write this thing? This nudist novel and this blog about writing it?
Well, like most real writers, I choose to write about what I know. And I am acquainted with naturism. I had a girlfriend once whose sister lived in a nudist apartment complex in Austin. I was inside that place a dozen times or so. I have also been to the nudist park north of Dallas. I have experience of nudists and at least some idea of what it is like to be one.
And the characters in the story are all based on real people. The main character is at least fifty percent me. The other fifty percent is a member of my family. The stepmom in the story is a combination of two former girlfriends. Her twin girls are partly based on my twin cousins (who have never been nudists) and on twin girls in my class in the 80’s (who lived naked at least once in a while, if not as much as the twins in the story).
But the critical themes in the story are not really about being a nudist. Naked is a metaphor for honesty, being able to hide nothing because you no longer wear the armor that you once used to hide from repressed memories of abuse. The main character, Devon, is battling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by a life full of abuse. And he learns to overcome these life-threatening things by being honest with others, especially by being honest with himself. A little bit of naked honesty turns out to be the key that unlocks his prison cell.
As I put words and stories and blog posts together, I invariably find myself writing about certain things over and over and over again. They are the things I wrestle with daily. I write to keep my mind active, and to keep my heart and soul alive.
It isn’t too much to expect to look at a blank page every day, and to find there the words that I need to say. It is daunting, but doable. And it gets easier with practice.
Last night I reached the climax of the novel, A Field Guide to Fauns. I pulled the scene off in a way that made me cry and feel like a part of my soul had been pulled out through my nose. But a critical question remains to be answered. Does it matter to the reader as much as it does to me?
The climax occurs after a group of four characters participate in a Chicken Dance, and the critical conflict is resolved by talking about the past.
Probably not the most cinematic approach I could have used.
But this is not a cinematic story. It is introspective. It grapples with chronic child abuse and suicidal depression. It deals with recovery from a seriously traumatic event. And it is set in a nudist park featuring characters who are trying to rebuild families after divorce.
Can I leave it like it currently is? Knowing me, I probably will. It is an essential sort of story that I need to write because of who I am, who I was before, and where I am trying to be. I don’t write for anybody else but me. But I do hope others will read it. I will, in fact, continue to coerce family members and friends who are not sick of my story-telling (if such rare creatures still exist) to read it and make faces afterwards. And I firmly believe it is well-written, but it is a well-written, introspective and highly metaphorical novel. How many people do I know, after all, that read and enjoy Marcel Proust or William Faulkner or Saul Bellow? (I myself have only read multiple books from two of those three, and that because I can’t read French to get the book in its original language),
Last night I watched what I thought was a marvelous movie on Disney Plus. And the truth is, the gut-punching climax of that movie happens when the main character is reviewing his to-do list while sitting on a rock. So, it is not only me who sometimes soft-peddles the critical steps in a story plot.
In truth, then, the next critical step for me will be to finish the falling action of the novel, carefully re-read and edit the manuscript, and then publish it. The novel will be done soon.
Well, here I am now. Shut down and quarantined, not because I have Covid 19, which I don’t, even though I can’t prove that. Rather, it is because I am a high risk individual. Coronavirus could kill me easily. And also because the world is shut down around us. No school. Officially for this week, but probably for the rest of the school year.
So, what will I do now? Well, write more on my novel, of course. But this is not the 19th Century. There are ways to reach out to friends and family instantly, by phone, or Skype, or Facebook, or instant messenger… And you need to check on them. Keep them from feeling isolated and alone. Especially if, like me, you or any of them are at risk from this pandemic. We are not living in the days of the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. We are able to actively connect with others to keep the depression monsters at bay. And no one gets physically sick from a phone call. (I honestly hope that is the truth.) I talked with my octogenarian parents last night, and texted my 60-something sister just to talk and reconnect. My daughter talked to her grandmother in Iowa. My number two son has online friends in Europe and South America. We have family in the Philippines. And I can write this blog post for you. How is your family doing? Do you know somebody that is at risk? Reach out to them. It may be the phone call that saves their life, and then the invention of the telephone will be validated and justified.
And hopefully, with the use of modern communication devices, you won’t infect them with anything, and they won’t infect you. Not even Mr. Grupp.
I am ill again. No apparent reason. Just headaches, body aches, and a pain in the chest. Day-after-day sort of pain for a sufferer of diabetes and arthritis. But pain is a reminder that you are still alive. It grabs you by the collarbones and shakes you with the realization that whatever you are going to accomplish will be done over, under, or around the difficult obstacles thrown in your way. So, I better pick myself up and get going.
As a nudist… well, I am not a very good spokesman for nudism, because I rarely get to be nude… and never really socially. I have seen a lot of nude people in my life. My own children, my nieces and nephews… I have at various times seen all but one of them naked. I have actually changed a lot of diapers, though that has been pretty much a long time ago. I have been around naked nudists a number of times. And I even spent an afternoon at a nudist camp one time. But this isn’t about being a nudist… even a never-nude nudist. It is about the morality of drawing nude people.
I enjoy drawing the nude human form. Man, woman, or child… nudes are beautiful to contemplate. But in our generally sexually repressive society, child nudes are a touchy subject. A lot of people who want to tell you what is wrong with your life and what to correct about yourself believe nudity is always about sexuality. And here’s a bit of naked truth about nudity… I am a victim of a sexual assault when I was a mere boy. Not an assault that provided any sexual gratification to me. I was sexually tortured and caused pain, both physically, and long-lastingly psychologically. It interferes with the entirety of my psycho-sexual development. I have never touched a niece or a nephew when they were naked, except when changing them as babies. I have trouble touching my own children, nude or not, as a result of what my attacker did to me. I have missed out on a humongous number of hugs and caresses, and maybe even kisses. My love life has always been a challenge, and it makes me approach child-nudity with great caution and trepidation.
The thing I have learned about the nudes I draw and paint, especially the child nudes, is that the pictures, no matter how innocent in concept, have a dark edge. They are not evidence of any sexual misconduct on my part. Considering the facts of my own life, I am determined to never be any kind of threat to any child. In fact, they are safer with me than with most other people. I know what can actually happen if you do not guard against it.
That is not the way some people will see them, though. I have been accused of being too fond of young boys before. But no kid who ever spent time with me as a mentor, dungeon master, or friend would fail to contradict that. Several did contradict that. I am provably not a homosexual, let alone a child predator threatening to boys. But this picture of Fernando Faun is not evidence of anything anyway. The actual model wore swim trunks in the photo I made it from. Only the face is Fernando’s, and I definitely changed his race and skin-color. And if anything at all can be learned about this picture, it is that, in truth, it is more a picture of me than it was of Fernando. It is about enjoyment of the naked part of being a boy, a zest for life and sensuality, that I painted because the fact of it was denied to me. I never got the chance to be like that anywhere but in my imaginary world where this painting is actually set.
I really can’t claim, though, that young girls would be as safe around me as boys are. I would never actually touch one, or even intentionally make her feel uncomfortable if I could help it. I could not promise, though, that my old brain would be completely free of all lustful thoughts.
But the whole point I am trying to make is that we are naked in more ways than just the physical. There is a need to be naked more. And by that I mean, we need to shine lights on our inner selves, to show the world who we truly are. I should not hide myself or my work from the sight of others. Letting you see these naked pictures, and at the same time, talking about my naked fears, is a kind of naked honesty that helps me to talk about what happened to me once upon a time. And it helps me heal. Repressing such things does harm to the soul.
It seems sometimes, in a Judaeo-Christian society, that we are a constantly being scrutinized by a rather harsh all-knowing God who rewards getting the faith-words accurately correct, to the letter, and the faith-based actions perfect, without a single mistake. And He punishes missteps of word or deed with pain and suffering and the potential of an eternity in Sheol or Hell. And that is a tough God to live with. He is like a teacher who uses his or her God-like powers to reward or punish to lead his students all down an exacting, narrow path to a destination that does not have room for everyone when they arrive.
It doesn’t take long in childhood for a highly intelligent person to realize before childhood is over that this cosmology is actually a load of horse pucky. It didn’t even take long for somebody as semi-stupid as me.
What I like about listening on YouTube to the wisdom of Alan Watts is that he gives us an alternative way of seeing the universe and ourselves. This he can offer through his studies of Eastern and Buddhist philosophies. Everything appealing in John Lennon’s signature song “Imagine” comes from Lennon’s love of listening to the lectures of Alan Watts. He is obviously a wise-guy.
Alan Watts teaches us the pathways that lead to finding yourself, who you truly are, and how you fit into the universe as a whole. When Carl Sagan says that we are all made of star-stuff, he is not only telling us what is literally true, as the elements our bodies were formed from were literally made in the nuclear forges at the centers of stars that later exploded in nova-bursts to scatter the elements across the skies of everywhere. He is also telling us that what Alan Watts says is metaphorically true, that everything in the universe is part of the same thing and we are all one in this way.
There is plenty to worry about in my little life. I could easily drop dead at any time from any one of my six incurable diseases or even the return of the skin cancer I beat in 1983. I suffer from the consequences of disease daily, as I have for many years now. My sins are many. I broke my promise the other day to never show you the horrors of my naked body on this blog. I constantly eat the wrong thing and continue to do things that I know are bad for the environment and the health of my body. I am prejudiced against racists, stupidity, and the actions of dedicated Trump-lovers. In many ways I deserve God’s wrath and brutal correction. I have come to truly believe that climate change is going to end life on Earth. I am horrible.
But I have learned from Alan Watts that all of those concerns mean nothing. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife. But I do not fear death. I am one with the universe. And the universe goes on even if I do not. And I will always be a part of it, even after I am no longer alive. The universe has a mind and is intelligent And I take part in that because one small part of that intelligence is me, and lives in my head.
There is comfort to be found in the words of Alan Watts. And living in pain as I do, I really need that comfort most of the time. That is why I have attempted to share a bit of that comfort with you.