March 05, 2017

In sickness and in health

The travel gods conspired against my conference roommate, Maine Writer. First she was told that her flight was going to be late. Then it was cancelled. So she got on a train, which -- based on the texts she kept sending me -- was only minimally faster than a dog sled. She arrived in the middle of the night, missing the dinner she had planned, where friends toasted her health in her absence.

She also missed the lovely, sunny weather that we all enjoyed the first day of the conference. During the three hours of sleep she got that night, a cold front rolled in. As she walked over to the conference center to give her talk, bitter winds slapped cold air against her throat, her forehead, and her bare legs. The toast to her health was clearly defective. By the time her panel ended, she was flushed and running a fever. Her usual throng of admirers, rushing up to talk to her about her upcoming book, didn’t seem to notice.

“Are you meeting us for dinner?” I texted her from the back of the room.
“Can you get me some drugs?” she texted back.

That was her conference: hours of traveling and a miserable cold, with very little time to spend with her friends. Yet, despite these dreadful conditions, Maine Writer remained loyal to the naked photo project. She knows the tradition: anyone who rooms for me has to pose. I was willing, at this point, to let her off the hook, but she insisted.

"Of course I still want to pose," she told me. We went together to the hotel spa on the third floor, which had a sauna. “This heat feels so good,” she said. "I've been shivering all day."

Then she stretched out on a bench, naked. “This is all I have the energy for.”

We’d been talking earlier about self-care, and I’d listed the things I do for myself: long walks outdoors, potluck meals with friends, making time to read and write and meditate. Sometimes self-care means just taking the time to be still and listen to our bodies. Especially when we’re away from home and miserably sick.

At the spa

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

February 26, 2017

Felt like spring

Lake in February

Last week, the area schools had their annual February break. So on Friday, I drove to a little town on the other side of the lake to visit the 16-year-old who used to live across the street from me. We kept in touch while he moved from foster home to foster home, and then four years ago, he was adopted by a wonderful family.

Biker Boy has grown taller than me and his voice is deeper, but he’s still the same sweet kid who used to come over and play with train tracks on my living room floor. He and I went out for breakfast to a diner that served delicious blueberry pancakes, and he told me everything happening in his life. He likes his high school, he broke up with his girlfriend, and he still loves to fish. He joined the fire department where both his adoptive father and his adoptive grandfather volunteer: he’s the youngest firefighter.

After breakfast, we took a detour to stop at the fire department, so he could show me their trucks. It’s a one-story building, which means it has no fire pole, but it seemed like a nice facility. I took a photo of him out in front. “If there were kids in a burning house, I would do anything to get them out,” Biker Boy told me. “I’m like that.”

“I know,” I said to him. “I’ve always liked that about you.”

We had a lovely morning. We took a walk along the lake, where the wind had piled up mounds of soft ice in various shades of white and blue. We stopped to take a hike at a park where the melted snow was rushing and crashing over a cliff. And of course, we ate the same lunch we always do: slices of pizza with root beer. It’s a tradition

.Chittenango Falls

February 14, 2017

Sunlight in mid-February

Sunshine in February

When I got home from work today, I realized that something was different: the sun was shining. It was still light out. And everywhere, snow was melting. Wet snow slid from tree branches. The banks along the driveway were shrinking. When I walked to the creek, I saw water instead of ice. 

October 21, 2016

Wild Woman

Wild Woman

They call us the Wild Women.

That’s our nickname. We’re a group of close women friends who go to the mountains every year for a retreat. We bring food, we take walks, we hike mountains, we build fires, and we walk a labyrinth. We’ve been known to strip off our clothes for massages, dance in the moonlight, and skinny dip in the lake. But mostly, we talk, sharing our lives, our triumphs, our struggles and our griefs.

Signing Woman, whose family owns the beautiful camp where we stay, tells the story that inspired the nickname. It was perhaps twenty years ago, on a fall weekend at the mountains, when the weather was unusually warm. Long Beautiful Hair, attracted to the clear water of the mountain lake and the sun pouring down onto her skin, decided to take a swim. She stripped off her clothes, keeping only her flannel shirt to use as a towel, and went down to the water’s edge without telling anyone.

Twenty minutes later, Signing Woman looked out the window and was startled to see a naked woman running across the lawn, wet hair streaming down her back, clutching only a flannel shirt. “Look,” she said to her friends. “What on earth – wait, that’s one of us!”

I think it was Makes Bread who grabbed her camera and snapped a photo of Long Beautiful Hair, smiling and radiant after her swim in icy cold water, drying herself with her flannel shirt as she came into the camp. And that story, embellished by several of the husbands who were not present, earned us the nickname Wild Women. Perhaps the reason the name stuck is because it’s appropriate to the place. In 1885, the legislature established a Forest Preserve in the mountains, saying that land should be kept "forever wild." That’s a sentiment that most of us women agree with: wildness should be forever.

So on our retreat this year, when I saw Long Beautiful Hair out on the deck, stripped naked to expose her skin to the sunlight, once again using a flannel shirt as a towel, I felt inspired to recreate the original photograph. She cooperated fully, dancing about the deck, smiling at the camera. “You want one for the naked photo project?” she asked. “I’ll turn away from the camera and be more discreet. You take it from inside to get the effect.”

I always let women choose the photo they want me to put on my blog. In the photo Long Beautiful Hair chose, she's standing demurely, using her flannel shirt as a towel, gazing out at the lake, her hair flowing down her back. You really have to be her friend and get to know her before you're allowed to see how wild she is.

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

October 14, 2016

Road trip in autumn


Every fall, I travel to the mountains for a long weekend with a bunch of women friends. This year, as we were figuring out who was going to go in which car, Birding Woman said, "I want to take a slow route and take photographs along the way. Want to come with me?"

I love a long, leisurely drive, especially on a sunny day in fall. We stopped at a lake where the water was so clear I could see little fish swimming by. We walked paths slowly enough to find woolly bear caterpillars — and make our predictions for the winter based on the fact that the bands of rusty brown were unusually long. We tramped through picnic areas where the wooden tables were already propped upright in anticipation of this winter's snow. We stopped to listen to birdsong, with Birding Woman identifying every bird she heard. We visited an inn that was set high above a lake. By the time we arrived at our destination in the mountains, we were filled with sunshine and sated with the brilliant colors of fall foliage.

Gone fishing

September 11, 2016

Another loss

Toward the sun

Blond Brother-in-law was only 19 when he married my oldest sister. He’s been part of my family for my entire adult life.

Everyone loved Blond Brother-in-law for his easy-going disposition. He was always calm and reassuring, and easy to please. He was happy with the simple things of life: a swim at camp, a well-cooked meal, or a movie he hadn’t seen yet. He loved our family trips to camp. Every evening, he stood at the grill, making food for everyone, never sitting down until everyone else had been fed. When we’d go out to the islands for a swim, he’d be the first in the water. He knew how to relax: he’d lie in the shallows when the water was warm, just letting the water rock him back and forth, or he’d climb to the top of the island and flop into the old wooden chair where he’d take a nap in the sun.

At holiday events at my house, Blond Brother-in-law always came to the kitchen to help with the food. That meant I could relax. I knew he’d refill the punch bowl, or rescue the rolls from burning, or check the potatoes, or clean the dirty dishes off the counter, or anything else that needed to be done. He loved to be helpful. If I mentioned to Blond Brother-in-law that I needed to buy something, he’d go online, do some research to see where the best place to get it would be, and then send me the link.

Blond Brother-in-law’s cheerful, easy-going nature remained, even when he had surgery on his spine that cost him the use of his right leg, even when he had to leave his job and go out on disability, even when he was diagnosed with cancer, even when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, even when his wife died just three months after her diagnosis, even when his cancer returned, and even when the oncologists finally told him this summer that there was nothing more they could do. Through the last three years, his concern has been for his three daughters. He wanted to spare them any pain. He knew that even though the three daughters are grown-ups, losing two parents in less than two years is a lot to deal with.

The last couple of weeks of the summer, we took shifts to stay with Blond Brother-in-law around the clock. We had to keep upping his dosage of morphine to keep him out of pain, and soon he was sleeping most of the time. He died peacefully, slipping away mid-morning, just like Blonde Sister did almost two years ago.

He was 54 years old.

July 10, 2016

Cool, cool water

Swimming in the marsh

My parents' camp, where we all gather every year during the first week of July, is a peninsula of oak trees next to a big marsh. Their dock juts into a creek that winds through cattails. It's a lovely place to take a swim after you've just come back from a morning run in the hot sun. (That's my youngest sister in the photo -- I'm not a runner.)

May 31, 2016

View from my kayak

View from my kayak

For Memorial Day weekend we went, as we have for decades, to my parents' camp up on the river. The weather was so warm this year that it felt like summer. Remember how cold the nights can be in May, I'd brought a fleece, but luckily I had my bathing suit as well. It was swimming weather!

One of the things I love about camp is getting to spend time with my extended family. But I also like to slip away by myself in my little red kayak. Camp is on a peninsula of oak trees that pushes into a huge marsh, and I like to paddle down the little creeks.

This weekend, as I glided along, I could hear noisy splashes on either side of me. The carp were spawning. The carp are, by far, the biggest fish that I ever see in the river. They weigh 10 to 30 pounds (The state record is 50 pounds, 4 ounces), and I'm pretty sure that they could tip my little kayak over if they tried. As I watched them swim under the kayak, their dark shapes gliding through the muddy water, I could hear the music from Jaws in my head, which added a little excitement to my paddle.

The noisy carp helped camouflage the sound of my paddling, which meant that I could glide right up to a great blue heron who was standing on the edge of the marsh. When I was within fifteen feet, I stopped paddling and just watched. The great blue heron always looks to me like it came out of some other time period, long before cell phones, laptops, or even the industrial revolution. The heron took no notice of me until I drifted even closer, and then she rose into the air with almost no effort and flew off to a different part of the marsh.

  Great Blue Heron

May 27, 2016

Who doesn't get naked in a cemetery?


We met at the grave of Susan B. Anthony. And within ten minutes, he had agreed to pose naked for my blog. I love cooperative strangers.

The latest Project Naked adventure began when a couple of friends discovered that Frederick Douglass was buried in a cemetery just a few miles away from the campus where we were attending a conference. We agreed to slip away from the conference for a couple of hours so that we could take a walk in the sunshine and visit the gravesite. “We will be back by the 3 pm session,” Scrivener promised as he slid behind the wheel of the car.

“Hey, I’m bringing my camera, just in case any of you want to pose,” I said. Scrivener and Allistelling looked at each other. I knew what they were thinking: no way in hell. It’s a weird thing about my male friends. They love to talk about the naked photo project, but when it comes to actually taking off their clothes, they balk.

“It’s BECAUSE we’re friends,” Scrivener explained. “That makes it weird.” I rolled my eyes at this extremely lame explanation. Allistelling didn’t feel the need to give an excuse, but it was clear he had no intention of posing.

Candy Corn, the fourth person in the car, was curious about the project. We’d met just that morning, but somehow my naked photo project had already come up in conversation. “How do you get people to pose?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Mostly, I ask, and people say yes.” She looked incredulous at that explanation.

The cemetery was a lovely place for an afternoon walk. It was May in Camera City, which meant that lilacs were blooming, and green was bursting forth on trees everywhere. We easily found the grave of Federick Douglass. Then, with Scrivener consulting his phone, we wandered off to look for Susan B. Anthony. We passed a lawn of bluebells, some huge old trees, rows of grey tombstones, and a woodchuck who darted out of his hole to watch us walk by.

The tombstone for Susan B. Anthony was small and grey. We were sitting in the shade near the grave, talking quietly, when two young men walked over. They were carrying a sheet of white paper, which I recognized immediately. They were going to do a tombstone rubbing. I couldn’t resist snapping some pictures as they worked, and then I gave them my card.

“Send me an email, and I’ll send you the photos,” I said. That’s when we started talking. Cemetery Guy One said that the rubbing was for a friend’s project. It’s called the Gay Rub.

“Whenever I travel, he sends me to a cemetery where a famous LGBT person is buried, and I do a rubbing,” he said.

Yes. Every time he travels, he takes a couple of hours to make a rubbing for his friend’s project. That’s the cooperative spirit I like to see.

So of course, I told him about my naked photo project. And of course, I asked him to pose.

“Naked?” he said, laughing. “I don’t know if I want to pose with my dick hanging out.”

“Not that kind of photo,” I said. "And you get veto power, of course." I would have pulled some images up on my phone, but there was no wifi in this sprawling cemetery.

Cemetery Guy Two jumped into the conversation. “I posed naked for a friend last week,” he said helpfully. He gave Cemetery Guy One a look of encouragement. That’s really all it took.

“This will just take five minutes, I promise,” I said to my friends. We left them sitting, fully clothed, in the shade while I walked with Cemetery Guy One and Cemetery Guy Two over to the next section of the cemetery. We talked fast as we walked — about nudity, about body image, about gender. 

“We’ll have to finish this conversation over skype,” Cemetery Guy One said as he stripped off his clothes.

“For sure,” I said. “The conversations are the best part of this project. Um – can you turn that way a bit more?”

Cemetery Guy One was a natural. He turned to look at his reflection in a tombstone, and I snapped the photo. Then I called for him to jump up and down, and I took some ridiculous shots of him in midair.

By the time we rejoined my friends, they were laughing. “We saw you jumping up and down,” Candy Corn said. “I love how comfortable and free you seem to be.”

I wanted to stay and talk for longer, but we had a 3 pm session to get to. “I want to look at your friend’s project,” I said to Cemetery Guy One. “I guess I can just google Gay Rub?”

“Um, no,” Cemetery Guy Two said. “I wouldn’t do that."

"Really,” said Cemetery Guy One. They both laughed.

“I’ll send you the link,” Cemetery Guy One said. “And we’ll skype one of these days.”

My friends were already walking toward the car. So we hugged goodbye. “Oh, and you get to pick your own pseudonym,” I said as I walked away. "Send it to me in an email."

“What?” Cemetery Guy One teased me. “I’ve got homework?”

We had to part ways — my conference was calling — but we’ve since exchanged a flurry of emails. He told me that he and his husband are going to ride their bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a seven-day 545-mile charity bike ride called the AIDS/Lifecycle. It’s an event that includes more than 2000 cyclists and will likely raise millions of dollars. I think that’s how he chose his pseudonym. “I can be Queer LA Cyclist,” he said.

And so it was decided. Cemetery Guy One is now Queer LA Cyclist. Next time, I'll get a picture of him with his bike.

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

May 24, 2016

It's a digital world

My college-age son, With-a-Why, leaves tomorrow morning for a summer abroad. On his facebook page, he posted a message to let friends that he wouldn't be getting text messages: "My phone will not be in service over there, so if you want to contact me, it will have to be via email, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Facebook message, or carrier pigeon."

Immediately, everyone began posting silly ways they might get in touch with him. Urban Sophisticate Sister said she was going to send smoke signals from the eastern most point of Long Island. Sparkly Eyes said, "I'll make sure Film Guy sends a raven should a king be deposed or the like." Someone else said, "I'm buying an owl."

Then Shy Smile, his longtime girlfriend, left a comment saying that she might send him some snail mail. Yes, something in an envelope with an address and a stamp on it. The ridiculous thing is that I had not even considered that option.