“I’ve got to get out of these clothes – fast.” It was all I could think. My younger sister, Jodi (age 29 at the time), stood shivering beside me as she pulled her sweatshirt down to her knees she was wearing. She had nothing else on underneath her sweatshirt.
“Lori, come on, let’s do it now, “ She said with a sinister laugh.
I snapped back at her, “Can’t believe you convinced me that this would be a fun-once-in-a-lifetime sister bonding experience!”
She was always more adventurous than me. Geezus, what the hell was I thinking. Besides, our older sister wasn’t there with us. The sister circle wasn’t really complete. Maybe I could talk my way out of it. But I knew it was too late. Registration was in for all 2500 of us.
I paused for a moment and looked around at the others undressing. It was almost 5:00AM on a very cool June morning in Cleveland, Ohio. The sun had just started to come up. We stood beside the city’s football stadium in a large grassy open area with people of all ages who traveled from all over to experience a “once in a life-time opportunity”. It was then that I realized how different this experience was for those standing closest to me.
An older couple, looked to be in their mid-60s, stood nearby. I leaned over and asked them where they were from.
The woman proudly responded, “My husband and I traveled from Arizona to do this together. We have 3 adult children. All of their lives, they accused us of being incredibly conservative parents – never daring or willing to try anything new. We want to prove to them that we can be very daring. So here we are.”
She looked at her husband with pride and smiled. He nodded in agreement, “Yes, we are planning on taking the picture back to them to prove it!” He laughed.
An attractive young woman in her early 30s stood on the other side of us all by herself. I didn’t ask her where she was from or why she came. She appeared to be focused – almost in meditation mode. When she removed her top, I could see that her purpose here was about something I couldn’t begin to understand. She had a double mastectomy. She was without expression. There was a complete calm over her. She didn’t appear to notice that it was only 45 degrees. Not a single shiver or movement.
The director took his mega-phone and climbed to the top of a very tall A -frame shaped ladder which overlooked the entire crowd. He began to give instructions to all 2500 of us. He explained the simple poses and kindly asked us all to disrobe.
I turned to Jodi and said, “Ok, on the count of three. Ready? One, two, three!”
We both removed our sweatshirts at the same time – our last item of clothing that protected us from the elements that cool morning. And protected me from a fear. I traveled that morning from Pittsburgh to meet my sister to pose for a Spencer Tunick photo. My sister, who is an artist herself, discovered that Spencer Tunick was taking photos in June of 2004 for the Art Museum in Cleveland. He was famous photographer known for his mass nude photo portraits and documentaries.
As we walked briskly, almost jogging, towards the spot we were directed to move to, I found myself trying to cover my private parts. Initially, the movie scene from Schindler’s List came to mind, when the doctors forced the concentration camp prisoners to disrobe and run in a circle as the doctors inspected their health. I was imagining how exposed and scared they must have felt. Sure put my fear of being naked in public without a threat for my life in perspective. We weren’t in fear of survival – rather it was just about being naked. Why? The fear began to feel so trivial.
Something strange happened after my initial anxiety and thought. We are all the same. Though different shapes, sizes and colors – we all came equipped with the same vital body parts to survive. The only thing that could cause us harm on that morning, was rooted somewhere in our irrational insecurities. After speaking to some of the registrants, I learned that most came to experience something very personal or prove something to somebody. In my case, respond to a nagging younger sister. For me, it resulted in discovering a bit more self-acceptance and even more gratitude for having sisters in my life. Jodi, thank you for showing me how the human body can be beautiful art rather than something we often are insecure about. – End of Story Submission –
Yep – failing to succeed. This was my first attempt at participating in a writing contest. I failed. It failed. Writer’s Digest conducts writing competitions quite frequently, and over a year ago, this contest called for writers to submit a short story of no more than 1500 words. It had to be based upon a single phrase placed at the beginning of the story provided within the contest requirements. In this case, it was – “I’ve got to get of these clothes – fast.”
Simple, I thought. I had a true story, a real life experience, based on this phrase they provided – how many could write about that?! Guess I was wrong. I learned I have much more to learn about writing and a lot more to experience in storytelling. It was the first time I put anything I had written in the hands of someone else to read – and judge.
Learning the craft of storytelling, writing and screenwriting, I’m certain of one thing. “Failing to succeed” will be part of the journey. Or is it “succeeding to fail?” In either case, I will pick myself up, wipe off the skinned knees and keep on going.
When Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor trying to find work, he wrote the original screenplay for Rocky. Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976. A struggling actor writes the story of an underdog fighter destined to win. Win through training, hard work, believing and – taking a hit more than a few times. Mr. Stallone – thanks for writing a story to inspire us all to run those steps in Philadelphia you made so famous. Inspiring us to pick ourselves up and, someday, win.