sex, money, and miscellany: talking about what matters

back to bodies

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm

We begin in our bodies. From day one, we occupy a package that is ours, alone.

And from day two or three or seven we are busy learning how to be elsewhere. We move, we talk, cry, listen, see, touch, bring our edges into contact with the world around us. We cast ourselves into others, learn sympathy, empathy, pain, and joy.

Each step away leads us further from direct contact with ourselves. The world gets more complicated by the day. Decisions have to account for everyone. Others’ pleasures become important–as important or more important than our own.

Over years, we might forget. We forget how to occupy our bodies.

And then we’re adults. How do we get back in?

In fact, back up one step. How do you even know you’re out of touch?

Cement was the canary in my coal mine.

It was spring, first year of college. Sky was blue, birds were singing, and this was Minnesota which you know means it was a long winter. I hadn’t left for France which means it wasn’t actually spring term yet, but it was a nice day in March. And because it was college and spring I decided to do something crazy.

I took off my shoes.

Not inside, not onstage or in my dorm room, but right there on the sidewalk between classes, in front of god and everybody. And I put my feet on the warm cement.

You’ve seen the cats that lie down and squirm on warm walkways on spring afternoons? I tell you, the cats know what they’re doing. I couldn’t believe how good it felt. For the first time in untold years, my feet felt alive, like they were attached. I was like a kid with a new toy–I walked on grass, on blacktop, on cement, on linoleum, on slate and marble steps (it was college), on carpet, on dirt trails, anything I could find. Pine needles are different from dirt, and dirt doesn’t always leave your feet dirty. Stone worn smooth by feet that have gone before is almost a religious experience. Sand is okay, but has nothing on moss. (YMMV) Each new surface reminded me again that there is more to feet than walking, that skin covers my whole body, and that touch is an integral part of life. Touch put me back inside my skin.

Once I rediscovered that nerves were for more than pain, it opened a whole world. Skinny dipping, fabrics other than cotton, oils, lotions, and food!

College was in Minnesota, remember. I grew up in a house where fully half a cabinet was devoted to spices. I sought out flavor, read a book on culinary school and picked up the vocabulary of gustatory pleasures. I went to France to study abroad and discovered table setting as art form and two-hour four-course lunches; dinners that were seven courses and four hours easily, prepared from scratch, served in order. I learned that courses aren’t there because people eat more food–they are there so you can savor each dish exactly as the chef intended. Even lettuce was not to be sliced; if presented whole, it was to be folded. Meals were not word scrambles but sonnets and haikus: careful, elegant, and crafted for pleasure.

While in France I also encountered perfumes; to this day the concentrated scent of lilac catapults me back to the streets of Pau, trailing behind a confident and well-composed woman, her essence wafting after her. The pleasure languished for a while until I went to India, where my nose was awakened. Mumbai (Bombay) smells like no other city in the world. Food is only a tiny slice of it. Roses and jasmine and marigolds and low tide and rotting milk and manure and charcoal fires and smog and incense and a thousand dinners in a thousand pressure cookers all singing out from beneath their weighty loads just scrape the tip of the iceberg.

And when I returned, music, I had music again. For a long eight months I had been surrounded by other languages, cadences, rhythms, pitches, and inflections. I arrived in New York and at long last my ears relaxed.

Now when I forget, I call myself back, deliberately, consistently. I make good food, burn incense, seek out touch, go barefoot all summer long.

And you? What do you do?

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  1. Bare feet are one of my favorite things about my college. Students, staff and faculty walk around barefooted so often that it is completely commonplace. It’s a little squicky to walk across the field at night, unsure if you’ll find a slug or frog, but it’s worth it to have wet grass slap your ankles. Walking to the dock is a multi-textural experience. From my dorm to the dock it was carpet-wooden stairs-gravel-bricks-tile-cement stairs-gravel-grass-dirt path-sand papery ramp-wooden dock. I, and my feet, can almost feel each step just writing about it.

    The first thing I do when I get in my car as long as it is not the dead of winter is take off my shoes. It just lets you feel more connected with whatever you are touching with your feet. And yes, I want to be connected to my brake pedal thankyouverymuch. And as soon as I’m in my house shoes are off.

    Language also grounds me. Hearing just a few words in Spanish sends me on a tailspin back to Los Angeles. I forget how completely homogenized Maine is until that happens.

    I think everyone has those songs or smells or sounds or textures that bring you back to a specific memory. There is no texture in the world like the dough for corn tortillas. There’s no sound out there that is the 405 Freeway at 2am, not even other freeways in other places. There’s no smell at all like the smell of the Southern California beaches – salty, fishy, oily, and hot. There’s no feel like the feel of hot sand enveloping your feet as you make the too-long but too-short hike from the end of the boardwalk to the breaking waves.

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