June 28, 2014

Project Naked: the Mermaid


The conference I went to last week was pretty small — only 75 people and two days of sessons. Technically, it wasn’t a conference at all. It was an unconference, an event during which participants plan the sessions. And I didn’t have a roommate. But still, I felt I needed to do a naked photo shoot. After all, it’s a tradition.

That first morning of the conference, when I woke up hours before the conference began, the beachside town was hidden by a thick layer of fog. When I walked on the beach, I couldn’t see the boardwalk, the casinos, the hotels, or a single other person. Perfect, I thought, for a lovely naked photo. I liked outdoor shots the best. I just needed to find a willing participant.

It was the during the meet-and-greet session that I noticed Mermaid Woman. She had the kind of personality that turns a sleepy breakfast into a party, and she seemed comfortable with her body, ready to jump into a feminist discussion about body image at a moment’s notice. About five sentences into our conversation, I asked her to pose. She laughed, and I knew that meant yes.

Even though my hotel room had lovely natural light, I really wanted a shot on the beach. “I can do a yoga pose,” said Mermaid Woman. I promised her that if we met early for a walk on the beach the next day that we’d the privacy she might want. All my naked photo shoots are top secret, I assured her.

So the next day, Mermaid Woman obligingly met me on the boardwalk, bright and early, and we walked out onto the beach, where ocean water was surging up across the wet sand. As I squinted into the sun, I could see the steel pier, the boardwalk, the tall hotels — and various people walking along the water’s edge. No fog at all.

“Um, this might be less private than I thought,” I said to Mermaid Woman as we stepped off the boardwalk onto the sand. Nearest to us were a couple snuggled under blankets, near the edge of the boardwalk.

“Looks like they spent the night here,” Mermaid Woman said. She shrugged at their presence. No one who sleeps on the beach is going to be offended by a little nudity. We both agreed with that logic.

A fully-clothed man was walking up and down the beach with a metal detector, moving his instrument back and forth methodically. “He’s not even looking this way,” I said. “He’s busy.” In the distance, I could see other figures: a woman running, a man with a dog. Up on the boardwalk, I could see an old couple sitting on a bench and a teenager on a bicycle. Oh, and a police car cruising by, on an early morning round. Yes, a whole heavy police car right on the boardwalk: that seemed more shocking to me than any display of human flesh. And wrong. I decided to ignore the cop, who probably was too busy trying not to run over pedestrians to even glance at the beach.

“They’re all pretty far away,” I assured Mermaid Woman. “And it’s not illegal to take a photo, right?” 

She’d come prepared: she pulled a long scarf out of her bag. “I can sit on this,” she said, tossing it to the ground as she quickly stripped off her clothes. Naked, she quickly assumed a yoga pose — and then began to improvise, stretching her arms towards the sun.

I don’t know whether or not my voice reached the other people on the beach or whether it was lost in the wind as I called out to her, “Oh, do that again – the thing with your arm! Perfect! Beautiful!”

Casinos usually don’t have windows, so all the customers inside the buildings, who had stayed up all night gambling were completely unaware that beautiful Mermaid Woman was posing on the beach, just a hundred yards away, stretching her naked body out in the morning sun.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

June 26, 2014


Local strawberries

Every Tuesday, I stop at our local CSA farm and pick up two bins over flowing with good food: big bunches of Swiss chard and lettuce, crispy red radishes, long green zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes -- and best of all, freshly picked strawberries. I usually can't wait until I get home to begin eating the strawberries: I start testing them before I've even pulled out of the dirt driveway of the farm.

June 23, 2014

The end of the game

Evening at the monastery

The game Twitter vs Zombies is almost over. The game began with humans pitted against zombies, but thanks to the collaborative nature of the emerging rules, a third choice has come into being: the chorus. These are players who no longer wish to take sides, but who want to stay in the game as narrators, commenters, and poets. They are still adding to the unfolding narrative of the apocalpyse, but they aren't fighting any more.

The way to become a member of the chorus is to pull together lines of poetry tweeted by other players. I've been tweeting lines of poetry in the game ever since that rule got released. Writing poetry is like crack to me: I know I've tweeted more lines than anyone else.

But I don't want to become a member of the chorus. I picture them as spirits, ghosts perhaps, who roam the landscape, drifting across fields and cemeteries, into barnyards, lingering over ponds and baseball stadiums and any place still filled with human memories.

I want to remain human. I don't want to give up my human community or all that comes with being human. I want to take action the injustices in the world, caused by humans or zombies. I want to continue eating human food -- garden fresh vegetables, homemade pie, chocolate cake. So I'm gathering the remaining human players so we can hide out in this barn.

June 22, 2014

Hiding in the rose garden

Thornden Park Rose Garden

As anyone who follows me on twitter knows by now, I’ve spent the last couple of days dodging virtual zombies. Yes, another game of Twitter vs. Zombies. Or what we are now just calling #TvsZ.

The first time I played, my youngest sister noticed all my odd #TvsZ tweets and sent me a text asking, “Are you okay? Has your account been hacked?” When I explained, she said something like, “You are the last person on earth I’d expect to be playing a game like that.”

In many ways, she’s right. I don’t play computer games. I’m not into the zombie culture — too much violence for me. So playing a game on twitter that involves zombies biting humans doesn’t seem, on the surface, something that would appeal to me.

But this game is different than the typical computer game. The first time I played, it taught me how to use twitter: believe me, you learn fast how to upload a photo and attach it to a tweet when you are running from zombies. And it’s a game that builds community. I’ve met a bunch of people during the game, colleagues scattered all over the world, and I like being part of that geeky community. Hey, it’s sometimes nice to have tech support beyond my own kids.

The best part of the game, though, is that it’s a long collaborative narrative. To stay human in the game, I’ve been helping to create and jump into #safezones. Friday night, I huddled with other humans on a farm, hiding from the zombies and enjoying some kind of home brew. Last night, I spend an hour rummaging through a yarn shop, trying to figure out whether or not knitting needles would be a good defense against zombies. Once that yarn shop became overrun with zombies, I escaped to the home of a charming and outspoken old grandmother, who has a plan to use cows to stomp on zombies.

It’s unusual, really, for me to spend so much time on a computer, especially on a summer weekend. I’ve always been an advocate for balance, for unplugging on weekends. So yesterday, when my husband suggesting we go out for a bit, I left the computer and smartphone home. I stepped out of the game into a gorgeous summer afternoon.

We went to the rose garden in Snowstorm City. It’s a city park, filled with small square gardens and tall, rounded trellises, all filled with roses of every type. Pink, red, yellow, white – flowers bloomed all around us as we walked through the sunshine. A wedding party had just arrived, and a young couple stood in front of deep red roses to get their photo taken. In another corner of the garden, a young couple with a baby were posing in front of yellow roses. We found a bench in the rose-scented shade where we could sit until the shadows grew long. Then it was time to go to the movie theater for a fun movie about dragons before another night of fighting zombies.

(You can find out more about the game here.)

June 20, 2014

The difference salt water makes


The conference I went to this week was an unconference, actually. That means that instead of experts coming and giving formal talks, the participants themselves shaped the conference with sessions that involved everyone talking, learning, and sharing. It was amazing and stimulating, but still, like most conferences, it was held inside a building, with chairs and walls and air conditioning.

But here’s the wonderful part. When sessions ended, and we participants stumbled outside, saturated with ideas and conversation, we came out to the boardwalk, filled with tourists in summer clothes strolling about, and beyond that, miles of sand and ocean.

My mother always says that ocean water can cure anything, and when I’m strolling along the beach up to my knees in the surging salty water, I believe her. Each morning of the conference, I woke up at 6 am to spend at least an hour walking along the beach. The first morning, the fog was so thick that I never saw another person. Every evening ended with drinks and food on the boardwalk, the warm salty air rushing across our skin as we talked and made plans to collaborate on future projects. When the conference came to an end, I convinced three of my friends we needed to walk in the surf. The waves rolled in and foamed up around our bare legs as we talked over the highlights of the conference.

Every conference should include an ocean.

June 14, 2014

A box of paints

The first house that my husband and I bought, shortly after our first child was born, was an old Cape Cod that needed lots of work. Our twelve years in that house included many home improvement projects. I spent hours stripping off old flowered wallpaper and painting trim. My husband and I worked together — with the help of friends and family members — to turn the attic into a third bedroom. By the time we moved out of that house, we had added three more children and some carpentry skills.

It was a relief, fifteen years ago, to move into a brand new house. Nothing needed to be painted! Nothing needed to be repaired! We could shove all our tools into a corner of the garage and forget about them. “Everything is new. We don’t need to do any work!” That was my mantra.

Over the last fifteen years, our home has been the place where kids skateboard indoors, cats scratch at the molding when they want to get out, and teenagers practice frisbee throws in the living room. Perhaps it’s a testament to the power of the human brain I could live in that home and still have this illusion that it was the pristine house we’d moved into.

Then a few weeks ago, I came home from a trip out of town. I walked into the house, looked around, and thought to myself, “We’ve trashed this place.” Suddenly, I saw my home for what it really looks like: a frat house at the end of party season.

For the first time in years, I’m getting out the tools and buying gallons of paint. And I admit, I'm enjoying it. I’m finding it’s way easier to do home improvement projects this time around. The most obvious difference is that I don't have to keep stopping to nurse a baby or pull a toddler out of a paint bucket. But also I’ve gained something valuable in the intervening years. No, not patience or wisdom or anything like that. I’ve got the internet. Fifteen minutes of googling, “how to patch a hole in the ceiling” and I’m practically an expert. Youtube makes home improvement projects a hundred times easier.

Yesterday, I felt nostalgic as I added a coat of paint to the living wall and noticed the many tiny holes near the top of each window. They were tack marks, from the days when the kids used to hang up blankets for an extra-dark game of Monster. The dents in the hallway, where Boy-in-Black sometimes hid by bracing his body against the ceiling, are still there despite the new coat of paint. Of course, I wouldn’t want to get rid of all these marks. They’re family history.

June 07, 2014

Secret Project 2014

picnic tables

This year’s secret project at camp seemed simple on the surface: we decided it was time to replace the two long picnic tables where we gather to eat under the oak trees. Since we use those picnic tables three times each day every day, it was a project that everyone would benefit from. 

Last fall Blond Brother-in-law emailed me plans for building picnic tables. “They should be pretty easy to build,” he said. But by the time spring came, he’d gone through four rounds of chemotherapy. And thanks to the chemotherapy, he still hasn’t healed from the surgery he had last summer, which means he can’t use his right leg.

“Maybe we ought to buy picnic tables instead,” I texted him. You would think it would be easy to buy picnic tables. But I knew we had to adhere to the high standards of my family’s camp. Yes, we have standards. The benches have to be detached from the table, so that we can use them around the fire at night — and so that the tables are light enough to be moved by two people in their eighties. They have to be made of wood, not plastic. And it can’t be pressure-treated wood: no one wants toxins near the food.

Blond Brother-in-law searched the internet, made some phone calls, and talked to local people who build picnic tables. And this week, he equipped his truck with a device that allows him to drive with his left leg instead of his right. “How about Friday?” he texted me. “Let’s go buy those picnic tables.” 

The secret plan went smoothly after that. The roads were dry, and the weather was sunny and cool. We drove past red barns and newly planted farmers’ fields until we got to the small town where a talkative old man was selling the tables. He’d just finished the second table yesterday. He helped us pile them into the trailer hitched to Blond Brother-in-law’s truck.

“I don’t know when we can bring these up to camp,” Blond Brother-in-law said. “I’ve got chemo again on Wednesday.” I looked out the window at the trees that had just filled with green leaves and the sun glinting off soil just turned over by tractors. “We’re already on the highway. Let’s just drive up to camp now.”

Blond Brother-in-law grinned. “All we need are some snacks.”

We stopped at a gas station, I ran into buy some drinks and munchies, and soon we were heading north. One hundred miles later, we were at my parents’ camp, unloading the picnic tables. Wooden picnic tables aren’t that heavy, and gravity was on our side. I took a photo so that we could post it to facebook and surprise the family. Mission accomplished!

June 03, 2014

The youngest one in curls

Pond at the end of May

Last week, I tossed a bag of clothes into the car and drove east to visit one of my favorite families: the Scribblers! Phantom Scribbler and I met through our blogs nine years ago, and we keep in touch online, but I’ve long since figured out that a real life visit is worth a 1000 emails.

Lucky for me, Phantom Scribbler is a big respectful of traditions. As I walked into the house, I was greeted with the smell of vegan chocolate cupcakes. I think she’s made them every single time I visited, mostly because I remind her of the tradition in every email I send ahead of time. Within minutes, I was sitting at her kitchen table, drinking tea and eating a cupcake, while her kids chatted to me about their homework, by which I mean that I mocked the worksheets that their teachers had given them.

The next morning, when the kids left for school and her husband left for work, we did what we do best — we sat and talked. It was a rainy day, chilly for the end of May, but we didn’t let that bother us. Phantom made delicious lentil soup, and I ate bowl after bowl along with homemade bread and more chocolate cupcakes. The next day, the sun came out, and it finally felt like summer. We took a long walk around a pond and through a cemetery, talking the whole time of course. I didn’t carry my camera, but I snapped a picture with my phone.

One of my traditions with the Scribbler family is to watch an episode of the Brady Brunch each evening. This year, we made an exciting discovery: two of the episodes offered the option of “commentary” from the grown-up actors who played Cindy, Peter, and Greg. What was especially wonderful is that the actors were even snarkier than we were, commenting on Mrs. Brady’s wig and mocking some of the most ridiculous scenes, much the way my own kids mock the family videos made when they were young.

It was a lovely visit. Phantom’s kids are still young enough to be kids, even if they are some of the smartest and adult-like kids I’ve ever met. They entertained me while Phantom Scribbler kept cooking more delicious food, and I kept threatening just to stay and live with them. Eventually, though, I ate the last chocolate cupcake, finished the last bowl of soup, and got in the car to drive home.