I Write Myself Naked

I’m thirty-eight years old, and I’m sitting here in front of anyone reading this — completely exposed.

I wrote a book in the fourth grade that was chosen to be read out loud at a Young Authors Regional Awards shindig that I had never heard of. It existed in a world with which I had no familiarity.

I was working-class, low rent, salt of the earth stock. My people worked with their hands — got other people’s coffee.

I turned in that story for the local Young Authors competition as an assignment for my English class. To me, it was just another piece of homework.

A few months later, my teacher handed me a tri-folded paper sealed with a tiny piece of invisible tape to give to my mom after school. She insisted it was important and warned me not to forget. I figured I was in trouble. So, I gave the paper to my mom after school, just like I was told to do, and two weeks later I was a 10-year-old kid sitting on a stage in a downtown hotel ballroom in front of a roomful of adults, armed only with the knowledge that I was there because someone liked my book.

I was, indeed, in trouble.

Just a poor, skinny, shabbily-dressed girl with a stringy, working-class mullet, holding her hand-illustrated, hand-written story with a spaghetti stain on the corner up to her chest like a shield.

The book was hastily thrown together using second-hand art supplies I found laying around my modest, two-bedroom ranch rental with the sticky mailbox slot. I stapled it at school because we didn’t have a stapler at home. The illustrations were sparsely filled in with dried-out, off-brand markers, in limited colors, with which I had to make do.

I knew a lot about making do.

The page shapes weren’t uniform because I used some sort of leftover cardstock and had to hand cut each one with my mom’s cheap kitchen scissors.

On the stage with me were a handful of other elementary school kids — except those kids were in pink poofy dresses and miniature striped ties. In other words, they were appropriately dressed for the occasion that I didn’t realize was an occasion. A few of their books were professionally bound and typed. This was 1988 in the rural Midwest. I couldn’t begin to imagine how those kids had gone about getting their books typed. Computers weren’t a real thing in my world.

My parents weren’t there.

I was dropped off and told to meet my mom back out front in an hour. I mean, it was a Saturday after all, and she had shit to do.

I remember my name being called and walking up to the podium. I remember never raising my head to look up at the sea of round tables, covered in white linen, filled with adults who, for some inexplicable reason, showed up to hear stories written by little kids.

“They” had to tell me twice to speak up. I have no idea who “they” were because I didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I read my story, turning the stiff, uneven pages with fingers as shaky as my voice. The silence that preceded it was louder than the sudden roar of applause and both of them startled me a little. I glanced up in the direction of the din — not directly, but sort of out of the corner of my eye — and the adults were on their feet…cheering?…for my story?

I suddenly felt terrified — more terrified than when the neighbor’s pit bull that was always tied up in his front yard pulled free of his leash and chased me down the street on my bike, snarling and gnashing. I was vulnerable and completely exposed. I glanced at the clock on the back wall and, “Oh, shit!”, it had been more than an hour. The audience still standing, I grabbed my book, bolted down the four aluminum steps off the stage and out the first exit door I saw. My mom was waiting in our dinged-up VW Rabbit on furthest curve of the cobblestone, circular drive with the engine running. She was smoking her Salem Slim Light with the windows up, looking irritated.

“How was it?”

“Fine.”

“Where’s your scarf?”

“I don’t know.”

“Goddammit”

Back at school the next week, I received accolades and kudos from the adults around me, and a kick in the back of the knee at recess from the rich little shit in my class who announced to everyone that my book was crap and his book was better. And he was right. It was. His was typed and bound and full of pictures that everyone knew he didn’t draw. I didn’t understand any of the fuss.

All I wanted to do was freakin’ write stories.

The story I submitted to Young Authors was just one of many that I composed that year for my own amusement. I was in the process of writing it for myself when the assignment popped up. It was just like the 30 others I had written that year in my free time. Honestly, submitting it felt a little like cheating. I took something I was doing for fun anyway and turned it in for a school assignment. I didn’t write it for some stupid contest.

I wrote it for me.

The writing isn’t new.

In elementary school, I wrote stories that let me escape my reality and be someone else, if only for a moment.

I kept a journal with my first BFF in the 7th grade. Those were my first love letters. Her name was Jamie and we passed that book back and forth for an entire school year. My adolescent heart is immortalized on those pages in pink ink from a sparkly pen she bought me at the Book Fair.

I learned to bullshit my way through a book report in the 8th grade. That’s when I mastered the art of using a lot of words to say absolutely nothing of substance.

I wrote endless notes to my friends throughout high school detailing our dramatic adolescent exploits for posterity and, in doing so, got my first taste of narrative non-fiction.

I wrote a sarcastic senior column for the SSHS school newspaper and took a stab at humor. (I wasn’t nearly as funny as I thought I was.)

As an undergrad, I wrote papers on topics that I had slept through in class and managed to get A’s on them by honing my research skills at the brick-and-mortar library.

Then I took those skills and wrote other people’s papers later in college, on subjects I had never studied, and managed to “earn” them A’s as well — for $50-$100 bucks apiece. My “B Guarantee!” was my first professional writing experience.

Most importantly, I have tirelessly shapeshifted my thoughts and feelings into Times New Roman, recounting and processing almost every significant life experience spanning my 38 years on this earth through my frenetic fingertips…and the click of those keys stood in for the beat of my heart on more than one occasion when I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going.

Writing is the best therapy I’ve ever had. I wrote to keep myself alive, by the grace of any god who would listen.

Writing is like breathing to me. Sometimes I feel like my soul will either implode or explode if I don’t write — this — very — instant. It’s a bodily function, in the sense that its an imperative for my existence and biological in essence.

Its a part of me.

The sharing is new. The sharing is terrifying. Like peeing in front of strangers. It makes me feel vulnerable in a way that I have avoided confronting until now. I have shared tiny snippets with small, select audiences and people I love here and there for the past ten years, but never with any potential to scale.

It’s like recording a session with your therapist and broadcasting it on YouTube.

I feel vulnerable. I feel naked. I feel blindfolded in the middle of a melee with no armor and my belly exposed.

I feel like a poor little kid up on stage being asked to read something she created from the purest part of herself, and submit it for judgment.

You are judging me. You are judging the parts of myself that I hide from the world. You are judging my intellect and my self-awareness and my blind-spots and my Achilles heels. No clothes. No armor. Naked.

I write myself naked.

I write this in the eye of the storm of a panic attack induced by a sudden, sustained increase in views on a story I wrote and published recently. So I’m writing about it right now — you are reading my therapy session.

I’ve learned a few things in the last few months that are driving me to keep sharing right now, in this anxious moment, instead of shutting the whole fucking thing down and deleting my Medium account, which is admittedly my instinct:

  1. Fear means, “Do it.”
  2. To be the person you want to be, you need to do the things that the person you want to be would do.
  3. Vulnerability is strength, not weakness.
  4. Perfection isn’t a thing.
  5. Writing is my purpose.

So I’m going to keep showing up here…naked and afraid. Naked and afraid. Naked and afraid. Over and over and over again. I’m going to stand here, feet firmly planted, in what feels like a goddamn hurricane, vulnerable to judgment and criticism, sharing details about myself with strangers that are nearly as intimate as sex, possibly more (but that’s a whole different essay.)

I will write about my experiences with motherhood and childhood trauma and rape and sex and anorexia and birthmothering and dating and abortion and relationships and marriage and divorce and autism and anorexia and any other topic my soul is driven to vomit onto my keyboard, with all of the fears that kept me silent for 15 years staring me dead in my bare naked face.

I will overuse ellipses and chalk it up to stylistic license. I will use “and”s instead of commas because I like the way they sound in my head.

I will write about things that people label “TMI” (or they did 10 years ago) because those things will resonate with someone who needs to know they aren’t alone.

I will respond even when my opinion is a dissenting one and open my mouth without being asked in the hopes that maybe we can all learn something or find some truth somewhere. And connecting with other humans is the whole fucking point. It’s what that little girl wanted to do 28 years ago.

I will write. I will write my way.

People will tell me my writing is shitty. Unoriginal. Offensive. And I’m going to keep fucking writing, even when it means sitting naked in the shower for 45 minutes at 6 am, scared to look at my “views” because the only thing scarier than no one reading my words, is a shit ton of people reading my words.

I will do it because I’m done denying myself the thing that feeds my soul out of reverence to fear. The thing that binds me with the rest of humanity. The thing that reaches a level of spiritual interconnectedness that I can’t access any other way.

I will do it because I’m a mother-fucking writer and I’m not going to let fear hold me back anymore.

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small. www.ajkaywriter.com

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