September 30, 2013

Dancing Woman poses naked

Dancing Woman, at rest

I no longer have to bribe or cajole my friends into posing naked for my blog. "I love posing," Dancing Woman said to me, as she stripped off her clothes last weekend. "Your readers always say such nice things."

It’s true. I have wonderful readers.

People often complain about how many trolls – or complete assholes — there are on the internet. It’s amazing what jerks people can be in a medium that allows them to be anonymous. Popular Science recently turned off comments on their website because “the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine” was being done beneath their own stories, on a website designed to promote science.

But my readers are an exception to that. About 99 percent of the comments I get here are supportive or positive or add to the conversation in a thoughtful way. The emails I get are even better. Ever since I began posting naked photos, women have been writing to me about their body issues. I've heard about bulimia, abortion, pregnancy, menopause, you name it. Oh, sure, I occasionally get the obnoxious email from some guy who feels obligated to send me a naked photo of himself. But those emails are easily deleted, and far outweighed by the wonderful emails from women (and some men) all over the world who write to confide in me about the struggles they've had with their own body image.

These stories don't go on my blog. But I read them, listen to them, try to honor them. And I love it when I get to take a photo of a friend. We already know each other's stories, the scars and baggage we carry with us.

You can read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos. 

September 26, 2013

Dances with fabric

Dances with fabric

When Quilt Artist volunteered to be my roommate last weekend in the mountains, she knew full well the responsibility that came with that role. Yes, that’s right. She would have to pose naked for the blog. It’s a tradition.

She didn’t protest when I asked. In fact, she’d come prepared. “I’m going to pose with a piece of fabric,” she said, pulling a long blue-and-green cloth out of her bag. That’s what I call cooperation. A roommate who brings a prop.

Quilt Artist works with fabric every day. Her studio bursts gorgeously with colour, piles of fabric with lovely textures that make you want to touch them. I’ve heard her talk about the relationship between humans and fabric, a relationship that begins immediately after birth, when an infant is wrapped in a soft cloth. In her case, it's a relationship that she's cultivated. Making beautiful quilts began as a hobby but became her career and established her as a serious artist.

To pose for my blog, Quilt Artist stripped off her clothes, went out into the deck of the camp, and began dancing with the piece of fabric, with the wind from the lake blowing her hair about. It seemed utterly appropriate, at least to me. The folks moving up and down the lake in boats may have thought otherwise.

You can read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos. 

September 25, 2013

Early morning on a mountain lake

Mountain lake

Even though we'd stayed up late by the fire, talking and eating, I woke up early Saturday morning. Through the open window, I could hear the lake splashing against the shore. The clouds kept shifting and moving across the sun. I pulled on sweatpants, grabbed my camera, and went out, barefoot, into the misty blue morning.

September 23, 2013

Weekend in the mountains

For the weekend

“I made soup,” Quilt Artist said when she arrived at my house Friday afternoon. As I piled my stuff in her car – sleeping bag, pillow, clothes, books – I smiled at the pot of soup wedged tightly in the back seat. Homemade soup is the perfect food for a fall weekend in the mountains.

The trip went quickly, since we talked the whole time, but still it was dark by the time we wound past the last couple of mountain lakes and into the driveway of the beautiful old camp that belongs to Signing Woman’s family. Dancing Woman and Makes Bread had arrived earlier, and they were busy in the kitchen, roasting vegetables and squeezing lemon onto hunks of salmon. They hadn’t turned on the lights in the rest of the building, and it seemed a little spooky as I went off to explore and figure out which room I wanted to sleep in. We usually stayed in a smaller building next door; this would be my first time sleeping in the big building.

Built in the days when wealthy families wanted luxurious “camps” in the mountains for summer vacations, the summer cottage is over 100 years old. The kitchen where my friends were busy chopping vegetables included a butler’s pantry and a back staircase that once led up to the servants’ quarters. The main room is lined with huge windows, as well as four sets of double doors. I opened just a few to feel the wind from the lake rush right through the house.

The tower holds a spiral staircase with railings made from birch logs. I couldn't find the light switch, but I loved the way the smell of wood greeted me as I walked up. In the dimly lit hallway at the top, I felt like my eyes were playing tricks with me. I saw what seemed to be a person duck quickly out of sight. When I turned, the same thing happened again. I quickly decided that I’d explored enough.

“I want a roommate,” I announced when I got back to the kitchen. “I’m not sleeping alone.”

The spooky feeling disappeared when another carload of my friends arrived. Signing Woman went quickly around to switch on lights. She’s come to this summer cottage her whole life: she knows where everything is. Quilt Artist offered to be my roommate and we picked out the large bedroom at the top of the stairs: I fell in love with the big wooden desk and the wooden balcony outside the room. Mystic Woman chose one of the little bedrooms, once a maid’s room. “Yeah, lots of spirits moving around up here,” she said casually, as she tossed her blanket and pillow on the bed. Nothing fazes her.

Downstairs, the wind that rushed through the many windows felt a bit cool, so I found the woodbox and began a fire in the huge stone fireplace. We spent the rest of the evening eating and talking in front of the crackling flames. I felt content as I crawled into my bed at the end of the night, filled with soup, and listened to the water lapping outside the window.

September 20, 2013

On the way home

Late afternoon

Often in the evening, I'm frustrated by how fast other drivers are moving, zig-zagging to pass every car they can. But yesterday, as I turned onto the road near the railroad track, I noticed that the car ahead of me had slowed almost to a stop. Curious, I slowed down as well.

A deer had stopped from a stand of trees and stood motionless, watching us. I pulled over and sat for several minutes, just watching until the deer finally turned and ran back into the woods. The car ahead of me speeded up then, and I drove home.

September 18, 2013



“Do I have to take off my shoes?” he asked.

I’d been looking down discreetly, fiddling with the settings on my camera the way I often do when a man is stripping off his clothes to pose naked for my blog. I mean, I don’t want to stare. But his question made me look up — and then roll my eyes.

“Yes, OF COURSE you need to take off your shoes,” I said. “It’s the NAKED photo project. Sheesh.” We were standing within twenty feet of a very public parking lot – but PracticallyKin seemed unconcerned about any people that might come strolling by. No, he was worried about the tender soles of his feet.

“I always try to include the whole body in the photo,” I explained. “I don’t photoshop the photos – or crop out body parts. Even feet. That sort of defeats the purpose.”

We’d just taken a walk around Pretty Colour Lake, a park we’ve both known since childlhood. Our conversation had jumped from kids to jobs to friends and landed somehow, inevitably, onto the naked photo project. “One reader complained that I don’t have enough diversity,” I said to him. “But I think the real problem is that when you take off people’s clothes, they mostly all look alike.”

That’s when he said, “Do you have any gay men in the mix? Take my photo.”

I’d left my camera in the car (I know! What was I thinking?) so I couldn’t take the picture until we were back at the parking lot, which was filling up with cars as we neared the supper hour. I grabbed my camera and looked around for something, anything, that would give us just a bit of privacy. The old stone building near the picnic area would have to work. We stepped behind it, and he took off his clothes – and then, with some reluctance, his shoes. I stressed that we might want to take the photo fast before families began arriving with charcoal and burgers.

“Jump up and down,” I said to him. “We can make it an action shot. Like you’re about to fly to the roof of that building.” He jumped obligingly, his body in fluid motion against the solid stone building that’s been there since before either of us were born.

“Perfect!” I called to him. We looked at the photo on the back of the camera — and it did seem perfect. PracticallyKin is in his 50s, at the point in his life when he feels free to be himself. It seemed appropriate that his naked photo shows his body in flight.

You can read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

September 15, 2013

What Zombies and Ropes have in common

High ropes

Usually, my students come to Little Green College because they want to study science. None of them are English majors, since we don’t even have an English department. But they have to write for every class and share their writing with each other. I’m always asking them to move out of their comfort zone. I try to push them away from safe, formulaic ways of writing and encourage them to experiment, to play with language, to be ambitious.

And that means I have to push myself in those same ways.

This weekend I’ve been playing Twitter vs Zombies with my students. Most of them are eighteen years old. Most of them have been using computers since before they can remember. I, on the other hand, used a typewriter when I was in college and grad school. When it comes to digital proficiency, most of my students are way ahead of me. I don’t even own a smartphone.

So playing #TvsZ (that’s the hashtag that marks the game on twitter) means I’ve had to be willing to learn and make mistakes and stumble in front of my students. I’ve survived in the game so far by talking backchannel to a nineteen-year-old gamer who has shared strategy with me and given me smart tips for survival. Battling virtual zombies means learning to use the internet to communicate with people I’ve never met.

Then yesterday, smack in the middle of the #TvsZ game, I spent the day in the woods with first year students, an event that included a ropes or challenge course, in which we had to climb up into trees and dangle from ropes. I’m afraid of heights so when I climbed forty feet into the air, with only a rope holding me, I had a ridiculous amount of adrenaline in my veins. But the wonderful part is that my students helped me, cheering me on, holding my hands, giving tips as I climbed higher and higher.

Both the #TvsZ game and the ropes course fit into my teaching philosophy. What I want to do in the classroom is create an atmosphere for learning, a place where we aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, to talk about our struggles with writing, share our work with each other, give each other feedback, and learn from each other. Learning to write means experimenting, making mistakes and trying again, and writing ridiculous narratives about the post-apocalyptic zombie world just because it’s great fun to do so. I love the adrenaline that flows through my veins when I’m using #dodge to save myself from a zombie on twitter, when I’m swinging on a rope high above the ground, and when I’m typing words that appear on a computer screen.

September 14, 2013

Writing in the post-apocalyptic digital zombie world


I felt fearful today every time I opened my laptop, every time I sent a message out over twitter. I held my breath as I scrolled through my twitter feed, watching carefully to see if a zombie had bitten me, worried that I might soon be infected and dragged into the horde of walking dead. I sent secret messages to friends on twitter — and sometimes to strangers — to form secret alliances.

Yes. I’m playing again. Twitter vs Zombies 3.0.

Playing the game involves all kinds of learning.I could write a long post about how the game teaches twitter literacy, and how having to respond in only 140 characters can teach editing skills, and how the whole game itself forms a narrative that's like an amazing collaborative writing experience.

But mostly, I just have to say that I'm having fun. It's such a cool community of people, linked only by a common hashtag: #TvsZ. Almost 200 people are playing the game — and that group includes lots of faculty, lots of college students, as well as people from many different walks of life. At least one of the players is still in elementary school. Another has retired from a fairly prestigious job. What's great is that in the post-apocalyptic digital zombie world, we're all equals. If anything, I'd say the younger you are on twitter, the quicker you probably are at dodging zombies. I bet none of my students are reaching for reading glasses every time they sign onto twitter.

Too often, when I'm writing something, I spend way too much time editing and rewriting — and pretty much driving myself crazy. Playing Twitter vs Zombies is a different kind of writing. The fast pace of the game means I have to keep producing tweets, responding to the narrative other players are constructing. I'm writing in public – and making mistakes in public, just like everyone else. It's just not the students new to twitter who are forgetting hashtags or making silly typos, it's all of us. I love that.

You may be wondering why I began this post with a photo of a library. Well, in the imaginary world of the virtual zombie apocalypse, I've decided I'm going to hide with my friends in a library. And according to the rules of the game, I need to post an original photo with this post, which is earning me a one-hour #safezone. So if you want to find me online any time in the next hour, that's where I'll be -- just chillin' with a bunch of books.

September 11, 2013

A moment of silence, a few links

No one really talked about it much on campus today. My eighteen-year-old students? They were pretty young when the towers fell. They remember that tragic day the way I remember Kennedy's assassination: it was something that made grown-ups cry. 

This afternoon I heard the man in the next office talking to his officemate: back in 2001, he was working in Big City Like No Other, close enough to smell the burning and be part of the panic. I saw remembrances on twitter and facebook; I felt that twinge every time I looked at the date. I know two students who lost parents on that Tuesday in September.

I posted on twitter a link to my own poem about teaching the day after September 11. A friend and former student from Little Green responded by writing up a memory that will not fade: where on campus she was when she heard the news. Later in the day, I read a piece by a friend and colleague from my days at Snowstorm University, who writes about losing her daughter.

This evening, a storm is sweeping through the region. I am sitting alone in my living room, just watching out the window, listening to the rumbling and crashing of thunder, watching the jolts of light that break apart the whole sky.  

September 09, 2013

Weekend road trip

For the last couple of years, Boy-in-Black has been telling people, “I’ve got a friend in the CIA.” And it’s true. That’s what one of our extras has been doing. We see him, from time to time, when he's in town, and he usually shows up in the middle of the night.

Long-time readers will remember him as Older Neighbor Boy. That’s what I used to call him back in the days when the Pseudonymous Boy Band jammed in my living room every weekend. Sometimes I called him Snowboarding Neighbor Boy, since he was part of the gang of teenage boys we went to the ski slopes with every Sunday during the winter. But now I guess he’s Chef Extra.

That’s right. He graduated last weekend from the Culinary Institute of America, and we drove down on Saturday for a graduation party. The party was mostly family, but we’ve known Chef Extra long enough to count as family. We had to take two cars, since there were ten of us.

It wasn’t long before Shaggy Hair Boy and Boy-in-Black began texting between the cars, and soon we were playing the potato game. That’s the game where you send a couple people out of the room, choose a famous person, and then answer questions when they come back into the room. The questions can’t be normal stuff; it’s got to be weird metaphors like, “What vegetable would I be?” or “What musical instrument would I be?” or “What kind of potato would I be?” It’s a game we often play around the campfire, but it can be easily adapted to a car game, especially when everyone in both vehicles has a cell phone for secret conversations.

By the time we arrived at the party, we’d been playing the potato game for four hours. But of course, Boy-in-Black continued the game at the party, just pulling in the other guests, who were mostly standing around in the sunshine, talking and eating. The table on the patio was loaded with incredible food: grilled corn-on-the-cob, piles of pork, barbecued chicken, pasta salad made with pesto, cucumber salad, fruit salad, plus all kind of appetizers.

Eating was main activity of this event. We ate appetizers, then snacks, then a big meal, then more snacks, then leftovers, then dessert. Even simple foods were amazing, like the fruit salad in which fruits had been carefully chosen and diced and marinated in juices. The cake was filled with strawberries and cream. By the time we left the party to go to our hotel, I felt saturated with sunshine and conversation and good food.

September 05, 2013

Evening meal


It gets dark earlier and earlier each night as we move towards fall.

At camp, Urban Sophisticate Sister and my new brother-in-law, Tall Architect, decided to prepare a feast for us all — and the sun went down while they were still cooking. Red-haired Niece's boyfriend lent Tall Architect a headlamp so that he could see the chicken and vegetables he was grilling. My mother scrounged up some emergency candles, which she balanced on paper plates.

We couldn't see the food but we could smell it cooking. Urban Sophisticate Sister had marinated the vegetables and chicken with some kind of curry sauce (of course!), and she'd reduced some of the sauce into a glaze. One grill was filled with corn-on-the-cob, picked at a local farm and steamed in the husks.

The night air was warm, and the mosquitoes gone. Someone opened the wine. We crowded around the table, with plates filled, everyone talking and joking as we ate all of that delicious food.

September 02, 2013

View from the dock

My father arrives at the dock

The family gathered, as we always do, at my parents' camp for Labor Day weekend. Saturday was mostly overcast, with intermittent rain showers, and we spent the day sitting by the fire. But Sunday, we woke up to sunshine — and the smell of the blueberry pancakes my mother was making.

 Here's my Dad, coming in from his morning trip out to the river.