I was a mind-numbing thirteen hours into an eighteen hour shift at work, and I was searching the great black hole of the internet in an attempt to avoid finishing the rough draft of my novel. I was on the final chapter, and for days it had been treating me to a series of face-bashing headaches. Procrastination is a centuries-old tradition of writers, and so, metaphorically raising a glass to the frustrated men and women who had come before me, I stumbled across this photograph, taken by photographer Jade Beall:
I couldn't stop staring. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was one of the most compelling images of a mother and her children I had ever seen--the comfort and serenity of the child on the woman's right, the joy of the other one, both their hands clinging to her amazing, life-sustaining belly. I loved it. I looked up the photographer, found her website, A Beautiful Body Project, and clicked through a dozen more images of women, beautiful mothers and grandmothers and mothers-in-the-making--no photo-shopping, no glossing over the lines, wrinkles, curves, rolls and stretchmarks that made them who they were.
I was captivated.
I couldn't stop flipping through the pictures.
Now, looking at a near endless procession of breasts and bellies and butts at work is never the best idea, but if any of my coworkers noticed when I clicked to a new photograph and said something to the effect of, "Oooooh, look at the stretchmarks on her!" in an awed tone of voice, they never said a word. It probably didn't phase them. My social skills aren't exactly in the range of normal, after all, and my conversations are usually dominated by one of the following topics: video games, gay rights, the stigma against mental illness, the unrealistic image of women in media and literature, and the fantasy novel I read last week. Oh, and the newest Star Trek movie...that was pretty epic, too. Flipping through naked pictures of women was probably one of the more normal things I'd done at work in the past year, all things considered.
But then I got distracted, because somewhere in the midst of all that open-mouthed staring, I saw a link that said "8 Free Ways to Help". Being an underpaid, overworked 9-1-1 dispatcher joyfully working for the city government, I was totally broke, so I clicked the link and found "#8: Send me your story."
I thought, "I can do that. I mean, I'm a pretty decent writer, and it doesn't count as procrastinating as long as I'm still writing something, right? Right?! Besides, I've got five hours left here before I can go home and get some sleep! It'll help pass the time."
That last thought made the decision for me, since eighteen hours is a really long time to talk on the phone, and something should definitely break up the monotony of unconscious diabetics, seizures, objects in various orifices and the perpetual round of people setting fire to leaves and fences.
So I wrote.
I won't post the entire essay here right now, but it started, with, "I am Sam."
Oh, I am Sam, by the way. Raven Dayze is my pen name, or maybe my future legal name--I haven't really smacked out those details yet. Either way, I'll always be Sam, and I'll always be beautiful. The beauty part makes me perfect for something called the "Beautiful Body Project", doesn't it?
I didn't think any more about it after I hit the send button on the website. It had been a fun diversion; Jade might enjoy reading it if she ever got around to checking her email, and now it was time to go home.
Yes, by that time sleep was the only thing on my mind.
When I checked my email at work the following night, though, I had a message from Jade's husband Alok:
I'll admit my ego was well-stroked, and my eyes were tearing up because it's a powerful thing, those words about my writing, about thoughts and images I struggled to put on paper, about pieces of my life, my self and my body I still had trouble coping with, trouble understanding, and definitely trouble articulating. Still, it was the sentence that came after that really got my attention:
What is the likelihood you could ever get to Tucson to Jade's studio?
Huh. Good question.
At that point, I thought it might be a good idea to mention this little exercise in procrastination to my then fiancé, Phoenix Dayze (Yeah, that's not her legal name either. Writers...yeesh.), who didn't have any idea what sorcery I'd been dabbling in at work the night before.
And with that short, simple email from Alok Appadurai, and with me tremulously passing my computer across the bed to Phoenix so she could read my essay herself, my body odyssey began.