Monday, April 21, 2014

Least Likely to Become a Nudist: A Memoir: Part 1

Forward: Naturism is an important part of who I am. I believe it plays a role in feminism and environmentalism, and that the opposing view---body shame---is harmful to society. In Islamic countries, body shame promotes sexual violence, while in the West, it is used to objectify women. It also hurts children who are often too ashamed to report abuse. If all of this sounds preachy, it's because, for too long, nudists/naturists have had to deal with misconceptions and misrepresentation, accused of everything from insanity to sex crimes. As one woman told me, "Do what you want but leave the children out of it!"

We need stories to humanize us, to help share our perspectives, because if it's one thing I know as a lifelong lover of words, there is no greater force for change than story. And this is mine, my memoir, in which I grow out of years' repression and low self-esteem to adulthood, confident and uniquely aware of my humanity.

I would like to thank Jordan Blum and Felicity Jones, founders of Young Naturists America, who were generous enough to post this story first on their site! Be sure to check them out: Young Naturists America!  


Anyone who knew me as a kid would never imagine my writing this memoir. Without a doubt, I would have been voted “least likely to become a nudist” if such a category existed in my third grade yearbook.

Me and my mom.
You have to start with my mother, who was the polar opposite of hippie on the human spectrum of personalities. She suffered from a very real case of OCD, and among her many obsessions was how her children should dress. I sometimes felt like her doll. Shorts were a rarity in our household, except for use at the beach, and sandals made you look “low class.” Going barefoot on anything but carpet, according to my mother, caused arthritis pain later in life. My closet was filled with button-down Polos, and even in bed, I had to look like I was off to the queen’s ball. Honestly, if I ever meet the guy who invented long sleeve, button pajamas, I’ll smack him. And for some reason my mother preferred clothing two sizes bigger than was necessary for me, so I seemed to be floating in a bag of clothes, like I was preparing for a wing suit dive. If the temperature hovered anywhere below 75 degrees, my ensemble included jacket and sweater. None of this helped my too skinny to be 3-dimensional appearance, but my ego didn’t matter to her. Worst of all, for the longest time, I was under the impression that shoes were designed to cause the maximum amount of pain. Being of Greek descent, my parents were devoted to visiting the motherland in the summer, and of course, new shoes were required for every damn trip, so my mom could prove to my aunts and uncles how upper-class we were. Walking through JFK airport was absolute torture.

But from kindergarten to eighth grade, the Baptist Christian school I attended was far stricter. At all times we were required to wear light blue button shirts, navy blue slacks and, wait for it . . . TIES! Is there any piece of clothing more heinous than a tie? It’s basically a choking hazard that cuts off circulation to the brain. I cannot imagine showing up at the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter reprimanding me for my lack of neck-wear. No Bible verse I’ve ever found states, “Thou shalt wear ties on Wednesdays or when attending church.” Our teachers adhered to the dress code with a Nazi-like zeal. Once, when my mother couldn’t find my tie, I sat for hours in the principal’s office, just staring at walls, as my classmates learned division and when to use adverbs. God forbid I be allowed to learn anything that day sans my oxygen-depriving tie!

By now you might think I would have learned to hate clothes, that I rebelled and became a nudist, right? No way! Despite my baggy Polos and shoes made for geishas and ties suitable for auto-asphyxiation, I hated attention much more. Clothed or otherwise, I was extremely shy, and introverted to the point that people in high school just assumed I was using drugs (never did), which is why I dreaded “physical education.” The year was 1983 and this was private school, and it was still O.K. to hit kids’ with wooden paddles and embarrass them through forced nudity. Our locker room didn’t have curtains or private little stalls like you find at a water park. No, it was one big square, with lockers on one side and nozzles on the other. There was nowhere to hide! Nowhere to be discreet! Showering became such a problem for me that I cried about it to my mother, until Coach So-and-So announced to every third grade boy, “O.K. now, nobody make fun of Nick when he takes a shower.” This, as anyone who went to elementary school can tell you, had the exact opposite effect. In short, there was no escape for me. Full Monty showering was as mandatory as ties on Wednesdays. Oddly enough, no one had any problem exposing their penis but me. I eventually came up with ways around the system, like showering in my underwear, which gave me a damp daylong wedgie; or waiting until I was alone, which made me late to every class following P.E. and dripping wet in my now sticky button-down shirt.

Nakedness at home was no less terrifying. Heck, I didn’t even look at myself, so bathing in my own bathroom became a ridiculous, obsessive-compulsive ritual. It started with informing my family, “O.K., I am taking a shower now! Whatever you do, don’t come in!” then barricading my sister’s bedroom door (the room we shared), double-checking that the door leading to the bathroom was also locked, and as if that wasn’t enough, keeping a hand over my crotch at all times, which made soaping and using the shower head difficult.

Me? Become a nudist? Never in a million years! But then, of course, I became one. Find out why in Part 2 of this story, coming next week!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Naked Heroes

The idea of naked heroes is nothing new. In Ancient Greece, nearly every hero, whether on canvas, pottery or marble, was depicted nude, including Heracles, Perseus, Theseus and Achilles. Even Biblical characters, like King David, is most famously known sans loin cloth, owing to Michelangelo's masterpiece. After the Renaissance age, exposing the genitals fell out of fashion, likely due to religious pressure and an emphasis on the spiritual rather than physical world. But even to this day, we see remnants of the heroic nude in the way comic book artists portray their superheroes. Superman and Batman are nude forms but for their colorized bodies. No matter how tight tights get, you could never see such muscle definition in a human being, which is why Hollywood has such difficult time bringing these costumed characters to the big screen. The closest anyone could get to mirroring the page is with body paint, and in the X-Men series, director Byran Singer did just that, painting Rebecca Romijn blue, with a few strategically added fragments glued to her body, to portray Mystique.

In the literary field, naked heroes are commonly found in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Both Tarzan and John Carter, despite decades of inaccurate film and TV adaptations, go without a stitch. Mowgli, from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, never bothers with a loin cloth, as he is raised by wolves. Disney, of course, could never show him as was meant to be. In France, however, Philippe Sternis' writes of a young female Mowgli named Pyrenee, who lives without the burden of clothing, and is befriended by a bear. The nudity in the comic is tasteful and innocent, but don't expect to find an English translation. People in America would only see such images as child porn.

Laura Zerra is shameless in the show.
Other naked heroes are coming to light in the non-fiction arena, like the Muslim women in the Louvre in Paris, protesting for women's rights, or the incredible survivor, Laura Zerra, from Discovery's new hit show Naked and Afraid. 

I have been thinking about naked heroes for half of my life. As a teenager, I wrote of the fictional demigod, Dynotus, for whom I wrote four ring-binders of adventures, and only very rarely wore any clothing. As I became more involved in nudism, the naked hero evolved in my mind. With a greater, philosophical understanding of naturism, I was better able to bring Xandr and Thelana to life. When the characters made their debut in 2004 in The Dark Age of Enya, I was still apprehensive about nudism, and the idea of naked heroes. I could not imagine a time when my characters would find acceptance. But this was before Naked and Afraid, before Muslim women went naked in the streets, before the sex/bondage inspired novel Fifty Shades of Grey. So many new nudist/naturist blogs, twitter feeds, and organizations are popping up, I can no longer keep track of them. The world seems ready for Xandr and Thelana, and it became apparent that the same be reflected in the fictional world in which they lived. In Ages of Aenya, naked heroes save the world! How can the people of Aenya not accept them? If I cannot even imagine a world where body taboos become a thing of the past, what good is fantasy?

Heroic women, every one.

More than anything else, I've wanted to embrace nudism in my fiction in a way I never have before. Xandr and Thelana are unique in that they are the first heroic nude characters in modern fantasy. If anything, this should be celebrated. Like Superman's and Batman's tights, their skin is their costume, and so the next book to feature them will be called Skyclad Warriors. In it, Xandr and Thelana will go without clothing entirely, in the cities, before kings and queens, for the entirety of the novel. Their time has arrived.

How do the people of Aenya come to accept the naked heroes in their midst? Take a sneak peek below:


Friday, March 28, 2014

Aenya News: 3/28/2014

Princess Radia Noora of Tyrnael
My wife says my brain must be on fire. I am hard at work on the second novel set in the Aenya universe, The Princess of Aenya, and I am excited to announce plans for TWO more Aenya books. Tentatively titled, Skyclad Warriors, the direct sequel to Ages of Aenya will continue the adventures of Xandr and Thelana. You can check out the excerpts here: Skyclad Warriors and Gods of the Ilmar. My other project, The Naked Huntress, will be an e-book novella exclusive, starring Thelana, set in the same time frame as the original.

So far, feedback from Beta Readers has been positive, and I am learning to produce better work faster. By the end of this year, I should have a completed draft of Princess ready for publishers. If you have not signed up to become a Beta Reader yet, don't miss your chance! Click here to join in the adventures of Princess Radia Noora of Tyrnael!

On the Ages of Aenya front, I am likely becoming an independent, which means that, one way or another, I will finally have a product to market. Nearly every agent has responded to my query with, "Sorry, this kind of story is not trending now." Basically, they want another dystopian teenage romance, a Hunger Games, Twilight or Divergent. I suppose it's pointless arguing from the position of the artiste, trying to explain that great stories with unique characters (they're naked!) is always in vogue. Many agents lack the foresight as to what may become all the rage (I think it's naturism, to be quite honest) or what may turn out to be a classic. The emphasis on turning a quick profit stifles creativity and limits what writers can achieve. Ages of Aenya is a hard sell specifically because it defies convention. Or it may be that it sucks. But reader feedback, and interest in Aenya, continues to grow, and I am encouraged by the free body movement, a new found interest in feminism/equality/environmentalism, which is synonymous with naturism and the Ilmar. The time for Ages of Aenya is now! 

I have been avoiding independent publishing since failing with The Dark Age of Enya in 2004; but even then I knew that the story and the characters needed further development. More importantly, DIY publishing is losing its stigma, and the advent of e-books is fueling the trend. The Nook and Kindle provides a great new way to reach consumers looking to escape the cliche/formula driven fantasy novels found on so many shelves today. Want proof? My friend and fellow author Michael Sullivan made between 40-50K a month selling e-books as an independent.

Thelana will be starring in her own adventure.
To test the e-book waters, The Naked Huntress: An Aenya Story (working title) will only be available for download. This novella will expand on the story of Thelana, from after she finds her home abandoned to before she meets Xandr in Hedonia. Inspired by the hit show, Naked and Afraid, Thelana will be fighting for survival deep in the rain-forests of Aenya, a place of great beauty and unearthly horrors, with nothing but her wits and determination and a quiver on her back! Look for new story-specific artwork to come!  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Noora's Song

I sing the Goddess that is in all,
who gilds the wheat and sun born rye,
who, in dreaming plains we seek her call

In the greenwood, in the elms that fall
from sundered root to shaken ply
Her eternal verse brings breath to all 

In the hornèd moons that nightly rule
her silver sisters dance the sky
and from dreaming plains attend her hall

Even in the sore and weeping gall
there is the ballad which brings release
there is the Goddess of great and small

In streams deep and mountains tall
from lover’s rage to felled knight’s wreath 
Zöe sings her song, who is in all 

Do not dread and shrink from winter’s pall
or of Luna’s chill bite be dismayed
For Zöe, dying, sleeps in snowy shawl

And Springs born to sing the gilded corn
so broken hearts are once more allayed
when mourning moons break to Sun of Morn

--- Nick Alimonos with Michael-Israel Jarvis 
Excerpt from The Princess of Aenya

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Inverted World

What the heck is that supposed to be?
My Norwegian friend, who is studying to become a philosophy professor, is currently taking a Science Fiction and Philosophy course, and I am intensely jealous. Where was that class when I attended USF? Despite the anti-philosophy taboo trending or perceived to be trending in fiction these days (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had to be re-dubbed the Sorcerer's Stone for American readers) I have long argued that philosophy is not only desirable in science-fiction but an integral part of it, which is why I was elated to see the critically acclaimed novels listed on my friend's curriculum. But it was the premise of Inverted World, a novel by Christopher Priest, that got me one-click buying on Amazon.

It has been said that there are truly no original ideas, and I have argued against using the term cliche, because what is or isn't original is entirely subjective, and determining whether something is unique is impossible considering the near infinite pieces of fiction out there. When it comes to 'novelty', you can only describe things in terms of degrees, so I can say that Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot is much more original than any other story, possibly unique, but I can never prove it either way. Likewise, Inverted World may be about as unique a story as you will ever find. The premise is simple: there is a city built on railroad tracks, which extend less than a mile fore and aft, so a team of workers must continually transport the tracks from front to back for the city to be winched forward. After ten days, the city, called Earth, moves one mile, always to the north. If stationary, Earth and all its inhabitants will be destroyed. What is it they fear? Aliens? Monsters? Nothing so cliche, but if you really want to know the mind-bending secret: SPOILER ALERT: the ground is moving everything southward, like a conveyor belt, and the planet they live on isn't spherical, but a flat parabolic plane, one that extends north and south into infinity. The further south one travels, the flatter the parabola and the world, so that everything: people, plants, mountains, are squashed by the geometry of the plane, somewhat like a black hole, until only subatomic particles remain.  

My copy of Inverted World is proof you should never judge a book by its cover. I'll go so far as to call it, Worst Cover Ever, at least when compared to other traditionally published novels. My friend and I, after finishing the story, still can't make heads or tails of the graphic. What's worse, Inverted World falls into the This Book Could Never Get Published Today category, as the first one hundred pages lack any kind of narrative hook. The pacing is slow, the writing is dry and matter-of-fact, and the main character (and only character for the first half) is an "every man" to the point of being nondescript and devoid of personality; in fact, his name is Helward Mann. And yet, while this may sound like reasons to NOT read the book, everything the author does works brilliantly within the grand scheme of the story. The main character is a blank slate specifically to allow the reader to transpose himself into this nearly inexplicable setting. The slow, deliberate pacing cleverly reflects the city's plodding movement. And while the first half is by no means riveting, I nevertheless felt compelled to continue reading. At one point, I said to my friend, "I don't know why, but even though nothing is happening, I can't put this book down." It makes more sense to me upon reflection, because Priest's world continually fascinates and the Sci-Fi mystery at the heart of Inverted World demands answers. What's more, unlike J.J. Abrams' Lost, the answers Priest gives not only satisfy, but are as remarkable as the questions.

When my friend and I sat down to compare notes, our first thought was, "Where was the philosophy?" Like any good work of science fiction, the more meaningful and allegorical aspects are subtle, never overt (and this is what, I believe, some agents have a problem with, overt proselytizing that beat readers over the head). Without going into detail (to do so would spoil the plot), Priest explores a number of questions, mostly dealing with the most fundamental philosophical inquiry, "How do we know what is true?" Reading his book, you are forced to reexamine your own assumptions about the universe you think you know. We are told, for instance, that the Earth orbits the Sun, but outside of trusting our scientists, how can we truly know this with certainty? How many people own a telescope to test the astronomical principles they are taught? Conversely, Inverted World deals with the question, "How do we deal with new evidence when it contradicts with our long held beliefs?" The novel does not deal with religion in any way, but I felt, though my friend did not share my view, that one could draw parallels between events in Inverted World and the recent clashes between evolution and creationism. 

Despite its slow pacing, dry prose and a lackluster protagonist, Inverted World is worth your time, owing to its near-unique premise, a fascinating setting and a compelling mystery, not to mention its philosophy, which, in keeping with the theme of the book, presents the reader with a new and different perspective. And that is, after all, what good science-fiction does best.