Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘conformity’

Live Nude Art

nakedblog

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”     – Andy Warhol

I know you are wondering what I am doing. In my most honest moments, I wonder too.

The photography shoot was an adventure, a challenge, and a chance to see naked people up close. Working with an artist whose medium is photography, we created a series of quite lovely, interesting, and at times, disturbing images. Some of the images are based on very loose ideas or story fragments and some arose organically within the photo shoot. I will write proper, interesting choice of word, stories for the images.

Overall, the models were exquisite. Every one of them perfect in some way, usually unexpected. We attempted to capture or hint at the elusive perfection.

Each day, up would drive a perfectly normal looking and behaving person asking where to park.

“Around back. You don’t want your car towed.”

“Okay,” and with a trusting nod, they would follow me around the back of the building to park behind my car. They would walk into the building. I would make sure doors were locked.

“Wow, thanks it’s not too cold,” models would say. They signed a model’s release and showed us their license, which I photographed and emailed to us. We explained what we were looking to do. Got their input. Then they would say, “Ready?”

I would take a big breath and think, “Here we go. Don’t stare.” And they’d take off their clothes. Trying to look busy elsewhere as this was happening, I forced myself to exhale, practiced a noncommittal smile.

Then we went to work. After the first ten minutes, it was fine. We put in some hours, broke a sweat, strained our eyes, hearts, and brains. There were a couple of dicey moments, more about artistic choices than about nudity.

“Did you see that?”

“Yeah, we can’t have that.”

So I walked over to the model and said, “I’m going to clamp some fabric around your butt. Strange shadow … “

Without blinking an eye she said, “Sure.”

Clamp, clamp, clamp went the fabric. The model smiled. I was the uncomfortable one.

Things were better by the second day. I felt maternally protective – walking them out to their car, asking if they needed water or felt dizzy and needed to come down from the stool.

But the third day was confusing, trying, a major leap of artistic faith. We photographed two models. Together. I kept repeating the mantra,

Thisisart. This is art. THIS … IS … ART.

Periodically, I would check in with my collaborator.

“Can they do that?”

“Sure.”

“Will we go to jail?”

“No.”

“I’m not sure this will fly in Raleigh … “

He’d smile at me and tell me to do something. Pick up a stool. Gather some clothes. I would suggest things – the placement of a hand, drape of a fabric, choice of a prop – and the models were game. It was a wonderful collaboration.

This weekend, we reviewed the images. Plugging the camera into a TV, the images took on life. The images are stupendous. Beautiful, erotic, disturbing. Quite likely, the photographs and stories won’t fly in Raleigh or will have a limited flight.

But mostly, I am proud of us. We were true to our visions.

I kept my promise to see the beauty in each model – not getting bent out of shape over every little imperfection. (Maybe one day I will see my body with the same kindness.)

More ideas are percolating. The exhibit is starting to find a shape, probably not the final shape. We will continue to work within our visions as I gather my courage and sharpen my skills. It helps that I am reading Bayles and Orland’s Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING.

But it is imperative, however you evaluate the exhibit, we will keep making art.

Mumu’s Away

crackle

One day when I was 45, wearing an expensive equivalent of a Mumu (a linen sack minus the pineapples and war canoes), I went back to therapy.

I said, “Help me make a graceful transition into middle age.” (Okay, so I was running a little late.)

He looked at me like I had grown a third eye right there in his office.

“No really. I’ve watched too many of my friends have difficulty with this change.”

He continued to smile benignly at me. “Why do you think you’ll have a difficulty with it?”

I looked at him like he sprouted a third arm. “Ah, society is not very accepting of middle age. They have two options – become invisible or act like a hypersexual 20 year old.” Internally, I was wondering if we lived in the same culture. Guess it is different for men.

We sat there for a minutes. Me with my third eye. Him with his third arm.

At last the font of wisdom spoke. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, I’m invisible. I don’t feel invisible but I am to men. And women seem to expect me to move into this matronly grandmother role. I don’t have kids.”

“Yeah. I guess that could be confusing,” he said. “I don’t think you’re invisible.”

“You have to say that. You’re my therapist.”

Really? No one else has asked for help around aging? Really?

We worked on the changing role and self-identity for maybe 2 years. I learned some love of my changing body. I discussed Botox with him. I told him about my changing intimacy needs along with the lack of available men. I expressed my frustration with the culture.

“I tell you I could stand naked by a Motel 66 with a sign reading, ‘The room is already paid for’ and no one would notice, not even slow down their car,’ I said.

“I find that hard to believe,” he said looking uncomfortable.

(I love when I can make my therapist uncomfortable – means I’ve struck a cord. He’ll probably go for supervision – a chain of therapists providing for each other’s retirement. Yay!)

“You still look good,” he said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“You have nice skin and are sexy.”

(Eeoough. Sex with your therapist is a no-no, the big F for Felony.) I knew he wasn’t hitting on me but it was time to end therapy.

So, I went to yoga class to work on my aging but not decrepit body. My yoga practice had changed. No way was I practicing like I would have done in my 30s. That’s disrespectful to myself. And dangerous. I guess I did learn some stuff in therapy …

In this yoga studio, most of the students and teachers are in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s. By this time I was moving towards 50, yes 50 years of middle age. I plopped in wearing the de rigueur yoga leggings and some kind of spaghetti strapped top. The teacher said, “Fix your top.”

Another student said, “You may as well be naked.”

I thought, “Why? Other people in here are wearing a little sports bra and something that might pass for shorts on a preteen.” (Oops, there goes my judgmental self.)

I bounced over to a friend’s mat. She said, “You just exude sex.”

I walked back to my mat. Was I putting out the sexy vibe? My skin wasn’t over exposed. I hadn’t even looked at the men in the class.

Then I realized women over 50 who are confident in themselves, with an integrated sexuality, are a threat. We know things. Things other people want to do. With them. We know how to use words to ask for what we want, to clarify, and to connect. We have developed a proper place for sex in our lives. Sex being only one thing among many things that define us.

Two years ago, well into my 50s, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, I overheard two people from my decade. He said, “There’s nothing like young skin. There’s nothing like youth.” She started to cry.

I wanted to go over and hold their hands saying, “Yes that’s the truth of it. Each age has a particular beauty. Look for it in every one you come in contact with but don’t negate your own loveliness.”

A photographer friend asked me, “What is it about women in their 50s that makes them so attractive?”

“We have worked to become comfortable with ourselves.” Ha!

The therapy worked. I no longer wear Mumus. Mostly I am comfortable in my own skin – that’s my beauty in middle age.

Writer’s Storm

storm

“You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms … “
(The opening words of “You Will Hear Thunder” by Anna Akhmatova)

Two events have me wondering about my writer’s soul. I am creating a working definition based upon the importance of truthful observation and expression in all its shades of black and gray (thank you Graham Greene).

Last weekend, I went to see the film Woman in Gold with a friend of Germanic descent. We had decided to go together for support while experiencing a potentially difficult movie. Interestingly we cried at different places. As a Jew, the film was heartbreaking to watch. The ghosts of my mother along with other family members sat with me in the theatre. My Teutonic friend was deeply touched by the movie, specifically the complicity of people then and today. We came to the movie with different values, histories, and cultures. Walking to our cars, we talked about how important it was to see the movie and not look away.

Two days ago, standing in line, waiting for the post office to open up so I can mail my book to a reader, I took the silly online quiz, ‘Who’s Your Poet BFF?’ The quiz matched me with Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet. Her difficult life was reflected in work. Family pressured her into writing under a pen name to avoid embarrassment. Friends and country pushed her to conform, silencing her writing for periods. I wondered why I had drawn this poet’s name.

I called a writerly friend and she said, “Maybe it’s important to think about the connection.”
While I cannot claim the mastery or soul of Akhmatova, I feel the pressure to conform. I write the personal, about my thoughts, my feelings, some adventures, my family, and my friends. My family does not like that I write. Some of my friends do not like my writer’s sensibility, my voice or choice of writing subjects. (I struggle to avoid mining others’ lives for vignettes at their expense.) I feel ambivalent and scared about putting my thoughts and feelings on paper, on the web, in stories, and in the world through my voice. But I cannot and will not avert my eyes for the comfort of my family, friends, or colleagues. Nor will I change my voice to fit the literary world’s idea of what a writer should write about and in what particular style.

This is my writer’s voice and soul. It is smart (and silly), funny (and serious), competent (and inept), sexy (and prudish). At times, I can be snarky and sarcastic (while trying to avoid cruelty). My worldview as female, Jew, widow, middle-aged, immigrant, and body therapist informs my writing. I will make mistakes and cross lines but I promise to learn from them. Help me by pointing them out – as kindly as possible. Over my life, I expect to grow and my writer’s voice and soul to echo that growth. But my essential soul is not up for change to fit somebody else’s template. Or comfort. I am fine with my writer’s soul – my honest observation of experience. If my writing makes you uncomfortable, all the better.

That does not mean that I am uninterested in your voice and your worldview. I want to struggle next to you as we experience the world.

To summarize, by reveling in Anna Akhmatova’s words, I —
“ … Hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.“
(The last words of her poem, “You Will Hear Thunder”)

Batten down the hatches or throw them open so we can dance in the storm.

Tag Cloud