Associate Editor Hananah Zaheer reflects on the idea of nakedness in this smart essay.
1. (of an object) without the usual covering or protection. Vulnerable.
2. (of something such as feelings or behavior) undisguised; blatant.
Writing naked is not a new exercise. But it is an admirable one.
Victor Hugo famously instructed his valet to hide his clothes so that he would be forced to stay inside his house and thus do nothing else but write. Hemingway wrote not only nude but also standing up, more defiant than inebriated in my imagination although the anecdotes say otherwise. D.H Lawrence did not merely like to write in the nude but apparently also to climb Mulberry trees while naked in order to gain inspiration—an enviable act of courage. In fact, my dedicated following of all films that showcase “a writer’s life and angst” as their main premise, reveals that most writers, at some point or another, are found in a state of undress while creating. Nudity is tantamount to art, somehow, my brain concludes.
On the one hand the idea speaks to me of utter abandon, a stripping away of all pretense and outward appearances to, literally, be present–the stuff of clichéd dreams. On the other hand, I imagine hot coffee, an accidentally unlocked door (perhaps defying the purpose of nudity anyway?) and a free peep show for the workers who seem to be permanently occupied with the foliage on the road beside my house.
It has also not escaped my notice that most of these writers are men, the women restraining themselves at writing in pajamas (like Francine Prose) and perhaps the odd composition in the bathtub a la Agatha Christie.
Either way, I simply don’t have the…er…cajones.
In truth, who can really recall what they were wearing when they created a particular piece of poetry or fiction? It is more likely that one remembers the emotional state one was in, perhaps the feelings of joy, or truth, or sadness, or even fear. To me, this writing naked business is not merely a physical act of artistry, but a reflection of the mental state one needs to be in to write well, or at all. A writer saying, “Here I am, as I am,” driving themselves to expose the imperfect truths about human lives, laying bare thoughts and emotions one would not normally voice. That, too, in my book, is a defiance, a declaration of intent, a situation to restrict one’s self to the naked truth.
I understand this concept well even as I find myself struggling, at times, to reach that place of complete abandon. There is always a covering, a veil, partly because us as writers have to be cognizant of lifting from real life. Also, because there have been many times when an acquaintance has pulled me aside to express sympathy because they read a story and assumed I am the character in my own stories.
And perhaps part of the restraint is due to the writing culture I belong to.
As a writer of Pakistani origin, I often find myself congratulating writers, especially women, who tackle things like relationships, sex, depression, all the taboos that are cultural whispers, observed but not talked about. Once, I showed a story I was working on to someone close to me (See? I can’t reveal who it is). The story involved a sort of twisted act of revenge sex and after a quiet moment, the person’s response was: “Why do you always have to write about sex?” I don’t. Always write about sex, that is. I write about people, and relationships, and traumas, and identity, and so many other things. But clearly the one thing that struck a cultural nerve for that person was the idea that such an intimate thing would be put out there for the world to think of, that somehow I revealed myself as a wanton person, depraved even, by exposing those thoughts, that brain, that act. And worse, that perhaps I was exposing this in others, admitting out loud that this kind of thing might happen.
That has been my own struggle to nakedness, fighting against cultural norms, against perceptions of my own “community,” being measured against writers from the same traditions as the ones I came from. Which, if I were to draw a Venn diagram of social class, religious beliefs, professions, family names, skin color, height, eye color, would be, give or take, twenty people. Twenty people who like the idea of values and whose voice says in unison: Why don’t you write something with a moral?
And I argue that I do. Except the moral I am reaching for is the idea of being truthful and present. And completely, utterly, naked.