A couple of months ago, I wrote about a painting of mine from the mid-1990s. In A Pivotal Piece, I described its abstract imagery as a way of abandoning the figure and freeing myself from the heavy baggage of the body. I’ve always had a complex relationship with the nude. There’s a line somewhere between the beautiful and the lewd that I had gotten tired of trying to find. If you’re depicting a sight that’s usually censored, it’s easy to feel like a pervert. Even so, deeper issues had informed my treatment of the subject.
Most of us are ashamed of what our clothing covers. I convinced regular people to model for me after college and discovered how often our flaws — whether real or not — horrify us. I was so moved by the realization that I wrote a short story about the discrepancy between who we are and how we appear. Will and Testament was finished in 1994. A year or two later, when my art no longer dealt with the human form, I put the piece of fiction away. Around that time, I weathered my first divorce, plant closure and eviction when the landlord sold my house. Afterwards, I found a new job and a little apartment where I got to work on a series of abstracts in earnest. Once I was situated at my new place, however, a shocking experience altered my point of view.
The one-bedroom unit faced a busy thoroughfare. At the front was a patio, to the left was a shopping center and to the right was the rest of the apartment complex. Somebody stayed over. She had already gotten undressed to spend the night when I reminded her that her car was still outside of a store around the corner (a paving project had made her leave it there instead of its regular spot). Her vehicle, I insisted, was at risk. In her frustration, she marched outside to move it. Did she know that she hadn’t donned anything more than her sandals? She didn’t seem to care. I watched her reach one parking lot, drive to the other and walk inside again. Those five minutes were amazing. The culprit was in her forties. What she considered her imperfections didn’t break her stride. Her courage carried her into a public arena where several people saw but nobody questioned her. The sight of it drove me to revisit Will and Testament. Those 6,452 words became the opening chapter of the first of three novels dedicated to the idea that simply beholding a body can’t really harm you.