Naturalist Seeks Nudist Colony

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Location: Salt Lake City, UT, United States

15 November 2007

Notes for "Euclid Alone"

About ten years ago, while reading my parents' autobiographies, I thought about how to write my own. Obviously, I wanted to avoid the chronological approach entirely. It can lead to the drastic kind of foreshortening where the waiter on a cruise my parents took a year or two before gets more space in my mother's autobiography than my brother Jim.

I had two notions. The first was to write the autobiography in many threads. I would take as many aspects of my life as interested me and write about them in some loose chronological order. Instead of my whole life from birth to the present, there would be threads about my developing personal philosophy, my relationships with girlfriends and wives, my experiences as a writer, my on-going vocational crises, my interest in sports, etc.

The second notion was that the whole should be written as hypertext, with links which could, for example, allow a reader to follow my life chronologically, to see what my parents had to write about various events that I was writing about, etc.

About two years ago, I came across a quotation that gave me a further idea:

I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: start it at no particular time of your life; wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale; and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.

-- Mark Twain.

I found this in Mark Twain: A Biography by Albert Bigelow Paine and immediately noted that Paine did not follow this scheme. Although he was working from dictation from Twain that did wander in that exact way, Paine put it all into chronological order. He judged, and I think that he was somewhat correct, that this "wandering free" was not the way that someone would want to read it.

But it made me think that my approach to writing about aspects was unnecessary. Write it the way Twain suggested and then use hypertext linking to assemble even those aspects.

Of course, producing the autobiography as a book would be clumsy. My current idea is that it will be present on a CD along with a browser that allows readers to follow it any number of ways: aspect by aspect, chronological, in the order that pieces were written, etc. (It may sound morbid, but I intend to have this CD (or DVD or whatever) distributed at my funeral -- sort of a door prize.)

"Euclid Alone" is intended as a bit of that autobiography. It would be found on several threads and would itself link to other pieces and to threads.

Sample internal links:

The title would link to the sonnet by Edna St Vincent Millay from which it is taken.

The first paragraph would link back to my father's autobiography.

"teachers": links to pieces about some of the teachers and classes.

"chess": link to a whole chess thread, including how we learned chess (a hungry cousin thought he was buying "cheese" men), my chess career, my decision to stop serious chess, etc.

"They were not all that common then ..." link to "Delby and the Eagle Defense", a related short-story (memoir).

"reputation": a link to a childhood reputation thread. Because of a lucky judo throw on a popular fellow-student, I never had to fight a lick in junior or senior high school.

"chess board in my mind's eye." Link to a similar incident when a rook suddenly turned into a truck in my lane.

"nudity": naturalist, naturist, nudist thread.

"logical": logic thread with some items like "Busting Santa", how I got thrown out of Sunday School, a childhood invention that tested syllogisms for validity, a piece on bare-handed deer hunting, my Anglo-Saxon verb-parsing slide-rule, my career in computers, etc.


"Euclid Alone Has Looked on Beauty Bare"

In 1932 when my father was a student at Granite High School in Salt Lake City, he wanted to go out for football. But it was the depth of the depression, he'd been lucky to find work at ten cents an hour during the summer, and he couldn't afford the five dollars for football shoes. So he went out for swimming instead: "I always loved to swim and swimming didn't require any special uniform as we swam nude."

Twenty-five years later when I went to Granite, not much had changed. I had the same principal as my father, many of the same teachers, and the same uniform for swimming. I was in boys' PE rather than on the swim team, but suits were still forbidden.

There was an admirable logic to it. We came into the locker room, removed all of our clothes and put them into the lockers. We then went up the stairs to the shower room, took showers, and went through another door to the pool. After swimming most of the period, we came back through the shower room to the locker room, drew towels, dried off, put the wet towels in the laundry hamper, dressed, and went off to other classes. Our gym lockers were as clean and dry after class as before: nothing wet was left behind to cause rust, incubate germs, or grow mildew.

I usually took a second shower after swimming to rinse off the chlorine. Since I had to draw my towel before taking it, I made another trip to the locker room and back and this made me a little late. Since my PE class was just before lunch period and since I brought a sack lunch so I could play in the chess tournament held then, I was not rushed and liked to take my time.

One day after taking my post-swim shower, I was coming down the steps from the shower room with my towel around my neck when some boys outside in the halls pushed some girls into the locker room as a prank. I proceeded calmly, my towel around my neck, to my locker, hung the towel on the locker door, and started to dress in my normal, leisurely fashion. After the girls had escaped, the other guys came crowding around my locker.

"Gee, Despain," one said, "weren't you embarrassed with those girls in here? You didn't blink an eye."

"Why should I be embarrassed? I was doing the same thing I do every swim class, just getting back to my locker. I didn't do anything different, so why should I feel any different about it?"

No one had an answer.

"Well, those girls sure must have been embarrassed."

"Why?", I said. "They didn't do anything wrong. Would you be embarrassed if someone shoved you into the girls' dressing room? I wouldn't be. I'd be getting out of there, but I wouldn't be embarrassed."

"They're seeing a naked guy!"

"Would seeing a naked girl make you embarrassed," I asked.

No one said a word.

Such an admission at seventeen would make you seem somehow unmanly in those days. In fact, we'd all have given a great deal to see a naked girl. They were not all that common then, not even pictures.

So, that was that. Word of the incident spread rapidly throughout the school and gave me a long-lasting reputation for incredible suavity and impeccable logic. An undeserved reputation so far as suavity was concerned. The truth is that while I was coming down the steps, I was playing a chess game over in my head and I really didn't see the girls or much else other than the chess board in my mind's eye.

But if my logic convinced no one else, it did convince me. When I thought the whole thing over, it seemed evident that except for the boys in the hall, there really could be no shame attached to anyone involved in the incident and that, therefore, there was no shame inherent in nudity.

I had taken another step down a path that though logical would eventually lead to conflict.

12 October 2007

Signs of Life?

After years of inaction on these blogs, I seem to be in the mood to work with them.

No fewer than three posts on my companion blog yesterday with at least two coming today.

First up for this one, why "naturalist" and "nudist colony", two phrases that make nudists and naturists cringe and / or seethe.

19 January 2005

Me in
Baring Witness
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12 January 2005


Genuine postings will be along soon.

Just getting set up right now.