I hated high school gym class. Our teacher, a coach, would line us up for attendance and walk down the row, paddle in hand, asking us in turn if we knew where the Air Force Academy is located, the Naval Academy, etc. The class clowns would inevitably “forget,” and paddling hijinks would soon ensue. When we’d finally move from the locker room to the gym or the field, class itself usually consisted of something like, “just, play football,” with little supervision. Rules were given only to be subsumed by the Law of the Jungle. This was in the mid-1980s; in retrospect, I feel that there was so much wasted time, that high school gym class could have been much more focused on fitness, health, and learning about our bodies.
As a young boy I had produced an entire series of “books” with titles like How To Take Care of Your Eyes and How to Take Care of Your Feet.
|How to Take Care of Your Body series, samples, c. 1975
It must have been the kind of information I was craving to learn myself. But even though gym class was mandatory every year of high school–including showers (unlike today)–and even though I ran cross-country and track for a few years, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I began to more thoroughly understand fitness, diet, and exercise. Maybe, it was just me, not the system. Certainly, we all continue to learn about our bodies as we grow and age. But I still feel that a more proactive health curriculum would have helped me–and a lot of other kids too–to not just understand our bodies but to really truly live them.
Do I wish I had grown up naturist? Definitely – I think that’s exactly the kind of body-positive orientation that would make for the best upbringing for just about everybody. At least my family was nude-friendly. But it’s this cultural schism, between the everyday ordinariness of nudity on the one hand and its fetishization through media, law, and religion on the other, that has motivated me, in my writing, to explore the body, its contexts and its contours
, and to discover and portray more possibilities for social nudism
. I want to rewrite the awful script that was my high school gym class. I want to update those little crayon-and-construction-paper booklets to present a broader knowledge of our bodies and our natures through social nudism.
Yet, thanks to today’s technologically-facilitated impatience and “instant gratification,” text seems to be at a disadvantage when compared to images. “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” as they say, and naturist photos seem to get about a thousand “reblogs.” There’s no question that these images can serve a great purpose in propagating naturism, and since there’s no need for translation, we can understand naturist images from countries whose languages are not our own. But text allows for sustained thought, argument, and development of ideas about the body and about social nudism. And in order for images to become a video, or dance, or play, for example (more than a slideshow), then there is a need for a text, or a story, to fill out the time sequence that those kinds of art encompass.
Something else that a writer can do well is to explore the arbitrary associations we make between words and the objects or concepts they represent. Why do we say “nipple” and not “breast-nose” like the Aztecs did? What if we said “knee-nose” instead of “kneecap”? Or, why isn’t “naked” an exact synonym of “natural”? Much ink has been spilt on the differences between “naked” and “nude” or “naturist” and “nudist” – the trick in writing about them is to successfully create contexts that invite the reader to question societal norms taken for granted. And many new words have been coined
, words that help deepen and strengthen naturist frames of reference.
Tweets, poems, stories, screenplays, novels: I’m trying to write the nude and natural body through all these formats, and I encourage like-minded wordsmiths to do the same! Soon I’ll post a selection from my next work-in-progress, and I’d also like to post reviews of other creative writing on the body and on social nudism. Any suggestions, please send them my way.