When I was a teenager, I had this dream every now and again.
In the dream, I would be walking along the grimy streets of Puerto Ayacucho, a small Venezuelan town.
Cars’d be whizzing by, horns honking, music thrumming; gusts of sultry South-American air would billow behind them and blow into my face.
I was always sweaty and tired, yet my arms would be swinging to the beat of my long strides, my head held high.
That is, until I noticed a strange sensation: the sweat wasn’t gluing any clothing to my body; instead, tickling and trickling, the wet beads were running unchecked down the curve of my waist, gathering speed as they rounded my hips and then petering out somewhere around my ankles.
And the dust! It was everywhere— in my belly button and under my armpits!
The dust, in fact, was in places it shouldn’t be, couldn’t be.
Unless, unless... oh horrors! Unless I wasn’t wearing any clothes!
And that is when I would look down and a horrible reality would overwhelm me: I was naked.
I was naked, and walking along the razor-edge of the busiest street in a populous little Venezuelan town.
I was naked, and striding confidently.
I was naked, and a long, long way from home. Yes, I was naked, and I still had miles to go before....a house and a room and clothes!
Then, to my surprise, it would occur to me that my nakedness was calling forth no honking horns, no squealing tires, no roars of laughter and nary a police siren.
I was naked, and no one cared.
In a city where catcalls and whistles were par for the course, my public nudity was completely ignored.
If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m not good at vulnerability.
I don’t let people in, easy. I don’t share my weaknesses or my fears.
Sit me down across from you, interrogate me, and you’ll find me quickly changing the subject, cracking jokes, silly, or telling stories.
Ask me whether I’d rather be in a room full of people or at a table with a small group, and I’ll elect the room full of people every time. I don’t like to be the center of attention; I do like being in the middle of the muddle.
And yet. When I write, I write my heart.
I spill my fears, my desires, my secrets even, onto the page.
Then I share my writing, far and wide.
After that, I will be afraid.
Why, you say?
Well, it’s puzzling, really.
I guess I'm afraid of being completely vulnerable, aka walking naked down that street, and being ridiculed, or, worse yet, called a faker, an imposter (like, "you think you're okay looking? well you're not!" or, "why do you call yourself a writer? you're not even half good").
Yet, I’m equally afraid of being vulnerable, and then NOT being seen.
And I don’t totally get it myself, but my dream might help to explain it, because my horror at that dream was equal parts fear of being seen and fear of not being noticed at all.
Recently, in a Facebook group, a mom posted a picture of herself with her two children. In her caption, she admonished, “Love them for who they are, not for who you wish them to be."
Radical acceptance, I thought. That’s what that is.
Radical, as in fanatic, extreme, revolutionary.
Acceptance, as in, “The action or process of being received as adequate or suitable.”
And I realized, naked-teenage-me was really not so different from 39-year-old writer-me.
Because both have been searching for the same thing-radical acceptance.
Will we be seen without being judged, noticed without being mocked, heard without judgment, loved without expectation, the me's wonder?
But also, will we be seen? Like, if we put ourselves out there, will anyone even notice?
That is the question, really.
39-year-old me understands something teenage-me didn’t, though— radical acceptance? It begins with me.
And now, as the new year of 2021 unfolds, hard as shit is, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to make it a daily practice to radically accept myself, my spouse, my children, my circumstances and my friends.
Because radical acceptance, for me, means that I will accept who I am and what my life is. It means I will be open and real.
It means I will be happy being real, whether or not people see me, judge me, notice me or ignore me.
And here's how
1) I’m going to continue to use my writing-knife to slit my heart open, I’m going to bleed, and I’m not going to hide it. I’m going to be proud of myself for opening up, even if no one ever reads a word I write.
2) I will expect and accept the lies that assault me when I open up. I'm even going to name some of them here for all to see:
"That was a stupid thing to say.”
“You’re not very smart.”
“How could you give that advice when you’re such a mess yourself? Stop being such a hypocrite.”
“You are a fake; an imposter.”
“Stop trying to be someone you’re not.”
3) I’m going to look at myself in the body-length mirror hanging on the back of my bedroom closet each day, sometimes naked, sometimes not, and I’m going to tell that curvy body of mine “thank you”.
Thank you, biggish legs, for holding me up so sturdily.
Thank you, hips, for stretching out to birth those babes.
Thank you, long arms, for all the hard work you’ve accomplished, for the ways you’ve helped me love and hold.
Thank you, long nose, for the gift of scent.
Thank you, heart, for beating. I’ll take all you have left to give.
4) I always wish for more. More time. More friends. More money so I can travel. Instead of focusing on lack, though, I will choose to focus on what I have. To practice gratitude. To celebrate the little things.
5) I’m gonna bury all those expectations I have, for who my kids ought to be. I’m going to make it my joy and my purpose to discover, by listening, observing and sometimes playing, who they are.
What do they love?
What motivates them?
What questions are they asking?
Who are they becoming?
And I’m going to accept their answers, and leave it at that. I will allow blossoming without pressure and nurture courage without pushing.
6) With my spouse, my love, my friend, I’m going to love you, honey, for exactly who you are.
You don’t need to clean the house like I do; you don’t even need to have the exact same parenting style. I love when your opinions differ from mine. I know I'm not responsible for your happiness, neither are you, for mine.
Our love, our life, our relationship may look different than some, but I accept it, and, in fact, love it.
7) My friends. My friends are free to their opinions and life choices. They are free to blossom in their own ways; in fact, I hope my friends know they can be 100% who they are around me, wholly whole.
8) I will accept my inability to pull off events with anything close to perfection. When I see that Pinterest perfect birthday party you orchestrated, I will enjoy the beauty of it and be happy for you, but I will accept that, for me, parties will always be thrown together and a bit messy and full of big feelings and silly fun.
9) I will like me for me. I will accept that I may never completely “fit” perfectly anywhere, but that doesn’t exclude me from being part of a community.
In the words of Brene Brown, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
10) I will love the one life I have been given, and live it to the full. I may never have a perfectly organized house.
I may not be the minimalist I’d like to be, the homesteader I could imagine myself as, the world traveler I wish I could be.
But what I do have is a roof over my head, food to eat, a family to love and people to know and bless.
Also, I am privileged. I need to acknowledge that and set to work making this world a more just and fair place for everyone.
I know I am called to use my voice in big ways and in small ways. I refuse to hide behind my naked-dream fear anymore.
I want to end this post in a most edifying way: by sharing with you the best quotes I could find on nakedness.
“I love being naked. I’m a free spirit.”
-Alessandra Torresani of Big Bang Theory
“A thousand men can’t undress a naked man.”
“I do not trust people who do not love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
“It’s illegal to be naked.”
-Kanye West (I had to. I’m sorry.)
“My greatest moment of intimacy, was not when we took all our clothes off. But it was when you saw me at my most difficult state. Like how you witnessed the most unlovable parts of me. As I slowly unraveled each imperfection in front of you like a scar. And despite all of this, you loved me harder anyway.”
“I’m a little bit naked, but that’s okay.”
“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”
Now go out and live your life, bold, beautiful and oh so very naked.