As I continue to delve into the significance and apperception of embodiment, the gap between sensorial terrain and day-to-day living’s emphasis on appearance widens. It is almost a schizophrenia.
This morning I admired the elegant, understated attire of the female finches at my feeder. Devoid of their mates’ fancy crimson headwash, their long deep brown side stripes are neat but not fastidious. They look well-put together. Shortly after birdwatching, I read Virginia Woolf’s adept, scathing review of ‘‘The Belle of the 50s’ (‘The Essays, Volume I’), Mrs. Clay-Compton’s memoirs of the antebellum South written in 1866. Woolf deftly shoots shallow, blind, abusive aristocracy in the face by satirizing the wealthy Clay-Compton’s boast of her life as a southern belle, that frothy whirl of voluminous clothing and silly wit covering the horror on everyone’s subterranean platters. White women in dresses in ballrooms, white women in dresses at the front, white women as entertainment, white women as morale boosters, white women whose intellectual contribution need only crest at banter. The reason for the Civil War and the collapse of this well-dressed white tyranny is left unspoken. I closed the book, took another sip of tea, and mused about appearances. Sadly, I confess to being snagged on appearance of my female finch, admiring her looks over any other quality. What do I know of the inner life of the finch, either female or male? I attach meaning to appearance. I anthropomorphize. It is not a large leap from attire to a rumination on skin.
My practice yesterday. By 4:30 I was on my mat, weary after a tiring day. I chose the wrong music but had no patience to select what might have been better. I began and slogged aimlessly. Midway through, I felt less curmudgeonly, scooping bits of consciousness onto the mat and kneading them into one ball of dough. ‘It all’ began to gather inside my skin. My skin is elastic, maybe less so than 20 years ago, but I don’t mean that. Put aside, if possible, skin as an identification placard, a misunderstood edge that has received all the wrong sort of homage and derision. What is the organ’s nature? Skin corrals mushy, bloody flesh; skin modulates moisture in and out; skin is a weather-tracking mesh. In its soil, orderly forests of hairs stand and flatten. It is hide. It is tissue. When we cut it, it hurts and spills. Without dissolving into a puddle on the chair, we cart our physicality from here to there inside a sack of skin. If we were blind, we would know all this. We would feel everything. On my mat, I rolled from side to side, ironing out lumps in my muscles, gradually unwinding tension. What had been stomach and lung and sinew melted and swelled to fill every cranny of my sack. My skin was capable of accommodating a perceptual expansion from tiny tight to wide thick slurry. I trust my skin to hold up, to not rip and leak—a safe sack.
I appreciate days of not having to present myself to the world, no one seeing me and so not trussing my skin, not having to parade my identity, and struggle with inside/outside-ness. As we all do…Such days are crucial to my well-being. People often say—here is an instance of appearance and attribution—that as you age you stop worrying about your looks, which isn’t true, but not only because of vanity. Vanity is the least of it. I’m speaking of access, permissions, and denials attached to appearance. No one escapes the shortcutting judgments of others’ eyes nor the slings and slaps of society’s unjust laws. Meanwhile, skin goes about its processes, always itself, yet misunderstood. In the evening at home on my mat, out of view, I roll the human slosh of blood, pulses, and billows, slipping over and back at the elastic edge, close and closer to what is inside all sentient beings, into the seed where action is born. I let go my praise of my finch’s feathers and feel her hungry tummy. Feel her hop as I arch. She turns her head. I turn mine. After the music dies, I hear her voice. We all have to live in skin.
Photo: microscopic image of sweat pore
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