Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fat Nude Writing or “The Lord never gives us more than we can bare.”

I did not go to the nude beach. For one thing, I was in LA for a business meeting, and even I am not creative enough to spin “admission to nude beach” as a deductible expense. Also, it was quite chilly, even on the beach where I stood fully dressed, waiting to watch the sunset, when a pleasingly plump elderly couple chatted me up and in the course of conversation invited me to visit the clothing optional spot. It’s quite common for me to chat it up with people, but the nude beach proposition was a first. There was nothing kinky about it, they assured me, all good clean fun (if a tad sandy). And there’s nothing to be self-conscious about because this particular nude beach caters to overweight people.

Which leads me to my craft parable du jour:

How to Write Like a Fat Nude

The first step to fat nude writing is the acceptance and celebration of imperfection. I stood in awe of these two people on the pier; they were not thin, they were not young, and by plastic LA standards, not beautiful. But they talked about utterly enjoying living in their bodies without a trace of apology or delusion about what their bodies are.

“Perfection is an illusion,” the old man told me. “Pursuing it is futile. And false.”

“Truth is beauty,” his wife nodded, “and beauty truth.”

Authenticity – not perfection – is the quality that makes fiction feel rich and resonant. A tree struck by lightning, an angry God, a stretch-marked mother, a gut-shot young man, two bountifully fed oldsters holding hands as the sun sets on their life together. Stories are made interesting and characters beautiful by trial, by scar, by imperfection.

But then comes that terrifying nudeness. You can tell, as a reader, when a writer is shielding herself emotionally. Or when she’s trying to disguise a flabby plot with an empire waistline of clever prose. But hiding and posing wastes so much energy. I’d rather spend those calories figuring out the best way to utilize my quirky creative impulses. Fat nude writing requires that we accept the essence of what we are at this moment. Yes, we are still committed to a lifelong learning process, an unceasing effort to become better, but at this moment right now, I am who I am, and I cannot write from any other self.

One of the few genuine regrets I have about my youth is that I turned down a role in the musical Hair, singing “My Body is Walking in Space”, one of my all-time favorite songs, in the nude. I didn’t turn it down out of modesty; I turned it down out of shame, which was stupid. I thought my body was just too, too mortifyingly awful. I was young, six feet tall, a size nine! I had an awesome body! The director tried to tell me that it was my vocal and physical uniqueness that made him want to cast me. But my tall, flat-chested body was not like other girls’ petite, busty little cheerleader bodies. And different equals wrong. Right? Different is bad. Ugly. He ended up casting a coloratura soprano who weighed about 250 lbs, and the song was one of the most stunningly beautiful moments of theatre I’ve ever witnessed. That fat nude chick blew the doors off the place. The song soared; her fearlessness was mesmerizing. I have mourned missing out on that moment of tastefully lit abandon onstage, and I try to avoid that chicken-livered mistake as a writer. Different art form. Same dynamic.

An older, wiser, more zaftig woman now, I doubt that I will ever have the courage to visit the nude beach, but I aspire to bare my soul through my work. For any artist, fear is a weakness. Uniqueness – abnormality, even – is a strength. And so is regret, I suppose, because at the core of good writing – plump, juicy, fat nude writing – is the torn and mended heart of the writer. Ungirdled, unbridled, unadorned.

(Above: "La Grande Odalisque" painted in 1814 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.)


Colleen Thompson said...

I absolutely *love* this! Goes back to the "Write Fearlessly" part of my mantra... Read widely, write fearlessly, edit ruthlessly.

JoAnn Ross said...

I have nothing to add, because you two wickedly smart, talented women have said it all. Loved, loved, loved both the blog and Colleen's mantra!

I am now off to send this link to my online writers' group.

Kim Lenox said...

When I sold my first book, someone told me, "Well, you don't seem very excited about it." And it was true. I was more terrified than excited, because YES, everyone was going to see me "naked". Great post!

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks, JoAnn, and happy release day to you! I'm making a point to grab my copy of Freefall this week!

Hi to Kim, too!

CJ Lyons said...

Awesome post, Joni! It shames me to think of how many times I backed away from opportunity out of fear or anxiety.

We all need to borrow a cup of truth from that couple you met!

Jo Anne said...

As a fat, old, somewhat unitque - and also somewhat fearful writer, you brought tears to my eyes, Joni. I only hope I can find a way to unshield the truth within and write fat and naked.

You touch me.

Elen Grey said...

"For any artist, fear is a weakness." Amen. And, it can be the death blow for creativity. I'll be thinking about "fat nude writing" for a long time to come. Fab post.

Hightailed it over from JoAnn's group!

JoAnn Ross said...

Joni!! I just realized you wrote Bald in the Land of Big Hair!!! Wow. I LOVED that book! In fact, it's still on my keeper shelf!

Christie Craig said...


Great post, and so true. We have to put aside our insecurities and celebrate what makes us unique--both in life and in our writing.

Thanks for the post.


Anonymous said...

Great post and a wickedly write-on message.

Why, oh why, is fearlessness with words so hard to achieve?!

EC Sheedy

jo leigh said...

Got here via PASIC. Read the blog post, then more blog posts. Then bought both of your books.

And that is (one reason) why blogging is a very, very good thing.

Natale Stenzel said...

Awesome post, Joni. I think, in my own way, that was the lesson I had to learn before I sold my first book. It's easy to keep an emotional distance from the writing when you're composing an article or an English paper. Fiction requires you to -- as you stated so eloquently -- bare it all. Thanks for the reminder!

Mel Francis said...

brilliant. absolutely brilliant. may we all be fat nude writers. (she says, shedding her clothing...)

TracyG said...

This is a wonderful bit of wisdom, Joni. Thank you for the reminder to go for it - the fall only hurts once---usually.

Tracy G.

Cheryl Norman said...

Thanks for giving us the naked truth about writing.

Cheryl Norman

Joni Rodgers said...

Wow! Thanks for stopping by, everyone. And for all the kind words.

(Now, if I practice what I preach, I'll have to accept next time Gary invites me to play Strip Scrabble.)

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and thanks, Jo, for giving our books a try!

Sarah L. Catherine said...

Loved the post! Once I saw the title, I had to read.
Great inspiration - thanks!

Tai Shan said...

I got here from TJ's post on her blog. This is an *amazing* post, and I hope one day to live up to it. Fat Nude Writing. I'm making a sign.

(shout out to Colleen and Jo Anne!)

Colleen Thompson said...

Waving "hi" to Tai Shan.

Great to see you here!

Deborah Clark Ebel said...

I was wonderfully moved by your honesty about writing from who we are at the moment, where we are in time, and not waiting until perfection falls upon us, perfection in words, phrases, in our age or physical conditioning. I think many of us have passed up an opportunity or an experience, waiting for a better time.You said, "Uniqueness – abnormality, even – is a strength. And so is regret ..." Yes, these things make us into better writers and even better humans. Thanks for the post.


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