June 29, 2017

Out on a limb

This spring, I got the distinct impression that my friend Maine Writer had changed careers. On facebook, I saw photos of her hanging upside down, supported only by a long stretch of silky fabric, and photos of her swinging from a trapeze. There was a fabulous photo of her body stretched out in mid-air, poised and confident, supported only by an aerial hoop.

Clearly, she’d run off and joined the circus.

I could imagine it all: raucous music playing under the big top, the smell of popcorn and elephant manure, the sawdust floor, the bright silks – and Maine Writer swinging from a trapeze to thunderous applause. I figured she would quickly make friends with the lion tamer, the clowns, and the ringmaster. She’s got that personality. Within days of joining a circus, she’d be star of the show, and what’s more, she’d be friends with EVERYONE.

But when Maine Writer arrived at Friendly Green Conference last week, she seemed just the same. Still a writer. Oh, she had the shiny brightness of a trapeze artist, for sure, but she was talking about a book she just wrote and brainstorming ideas for the next book. When I asked about the photos, she said, “I went to circus camp!” Ah. A once-per-week camp? That made more sense.

Her circus camp training, we both felt, would come in very handy for a naked photo shoot. We just needed to find a tree with smooth branches so she could dangle naked. We planned to get up at dawn — really, we intended to venture out early, before a single soul was out — but of course, the Friendly Green Conference means late nights with friends we hardly ever see, and so it happened that the campus was populated with colleagues walking to sessions by the time we began strolling about in search of a place for a naked photo.

Our friend Ocean Breeze came with us, and rain began to sprinkle down as we walked along. Conditions weren't ideal -- but then again, they so rarely are.

We’d been talking, that morning, about relationships, and the ways in which we are vulnerable. At Maine Writer’s reading the night before, she’d read a piece in which the emotion was so raw that half the room was crying by the time she was done.

“There are people coming this way,” Ocean Breeze warned in her quiet way, as we stopped by some trees and Maine Writer stripped off her clothes. We hadn’t gone very far. We were right in the middle of campus, in fact. And it was daylight.

“I’ll just climb into this tree,” said Maine Writer. It’s true that being naked in public can make most of us feel vulnerable. But perhaps it’s different for writers. I mean, once you’ve taken the smashed pieces of your heart, held them up to the overhead lights of a bookstore, and shown them to a roomful of friends and strangers and people who love you – perhaps being naked physically is easy in comparison.

Out on a limb

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

June 28, 2017

The Man with the Great Blue Heron Tattoo


You’d think it would be awkward, asking a man to come back to my room to strip off his clothes, but really it wasn’t. I’ve known the Man with the Great Blue Heron Tattoo for many years, but we only see each other at conferences, so we were both talking like crazy as we walked across the campus where the Friendly Green Conference was held. He shared with me the story of a dramatic health crisis (now safely in the past), and we were so busy catching up on the goings-on of our spouses and grown children that, before you knew it, we were in my dorm room.

The room was private, but otherwise not an ideal place for a photo shoot: lots of wooden furniture crammed into a small space, with a single window and a bed across the space in front of the window. My friend wanted his tattoo in the photo, but not his face (I assure all who pose for me that the photos will be anonymous), and unfortunately, he’s not a contortionist.

“I think you should pose with a computer,” I said. “You’re so quick to reply to emails, no matter what time of day.” I grabbed my laptop and handed it to him. He leaned over the computer, touched a couple of keys. And then he was so startled that, naked or not, he turned to look at me. “YOUR COMPUTER ISN’T PASSWORD-PROTECTED?”

I held up my camera and looked at my friend standing stark naked in my room. “THAT is what you find startling about this situation?”

“But really, you ought to have a password,” he said, patiently, gently, the way he likely talks to his daughters. He pulled up a photo of a great blue heron so that the picture on the screen would echo his tattoo. Yes, we are THAT clever. Then I told him that my smart phone wasn’t password protected either. It seemed ironic, somehow, for the naked man in my room to tell me that I’m too trusting. He’s probably right.

In the end, we managed to get the great blue heron into the shot. And we did find time later in the conference to sit and talk about how much we love that beautiful, graceful, ageless bird. He shared with me his decision to get a tattoo, to mark a moment in his life or perhaps, I should say, the graceful passage from one moment to the next.

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