Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love Me Do

A colleague of mine was telling me about her daughter’s body issues. Those of us with girls know how that little demon likes to pop up in our faces with an evil grin. Her daughter had hit puberty and decided she no longer liked her body.

“Do you like any part of your body?” the mother asked.

“My arms,” the girl said. “I have great arms.”

So, my colleague continued, she had asked a group of women friends which part of their body they liked the most. To her surprise, most of them said there was no part of their body they liked. One of the women had had a boob job, and those were the only thing about her body that she liked.

When I heard that story, I was astonished. How could they not love their hands, I wondered. Or their feet? Where would you be (literally) without your feet? Forget the fake boobs, how could anyone not love her lungs -- those two faithful cartons for the life-breath? And the heart, that’s a pretty lovable little drummer. Do I need to mention that pleasure factory between the legs? Personally, I’m fond of my colon and whole lower digestive tract for making sure I’m not always full of shit. And the skin! It may not be as soft and pretty as it once was but, good grief, we’d be a mess without it.

The body is where it’s at, man. It’s where it all happens, the roiling emotions, the love making, the wine drinking, the fried pickles on the tongue, the dancing, the laughing, the tears, and most importantly, the spiritual awakening. The mystics remind us that being present in the body is key to recognizing the divine light within us.

So this weekend in our winter writing retreat I decided to bring in a new exercise: writing a love letter to the body. I had no idea what a chord that simple assignment would strike, but strike it did. Our group of 20 people brought a range of responses, confronting disease, aging, and abuse, and also expressing gratitude for the healthful habits that their bodies now seemed to expect. There was plenty of laughter as well. Leave it to Phoenix to honor her natural breasts in spite of the scar between them. She’s letting her incision flag fly. And B. wrote an entire dialogue between his mind and his beer-demanding belly. I apologized to my body for getting mad at it for lingering in childhood a little longer than my peers’ bodies did. Other women forgave theirs for leaving childhood too soon.

Interestingly that morning, I had managed to cut the top of my index finger, and though I wrapped my finger in gauze, the wound would not heal. I had damaged my body, injured it, sliced through the skin with a tiny broken bottle. It didn’t hurt, but the triangular cut left a flap of skin that would not seal. The bandaid looked rather nasty as blood intermittently leaked out of the wound. An injury is a kind of shock to the system -- even a small one such as this. The general ease with which you live your life is suddenly front and center. I am not bothered much by blood, but I found the rush of adrenaline took something out of me and I wanted desperately to slip into sleep that the morning. A nap during lunch time took me to the happy place and revived me for the afternoon.

That night we found the drums in the closet, and I started banging away, loving the way the beat entered my chest. Fresh blood appeared on the bandaid. I imagined what my life might be like if I lost my finger. I would have to stop being stupid and pay attention to my hands, protect them, love them. I would have to do more than pay lip service to all this business about the body. So I put the drum away, and I didn’t subject my finger to any down dogs in Diana’s yoga class the next morning.

The workshop ended early because of a snowstorm to the south. I wasn’t worried. My friend who was originally a northerner would be driving us back home. We hadn’t counted on the ferocity of this storm though. A couple of hours into the trip my car began to skid as snow piled onto my wipers in big white heaps. My muscles wrapped tight around my bones as I reminded myself to breathe.

“Easy,” I said. “Easy.” I guess I was talking to myself the way I have talked to my nervous cat at the vet. We skidded from one side of the road to the next and back again. It felt like a long time without any traction; the rocky hillside loomed close. Finally the tires found some purchase, and an advertisement for a Days Inn 2.5 miles away beckoned. When we finally stopped the car in front of the motel office, my friend’s hands were shaking on the wheel. My own heart was doing a soft shoe dance. Adrenaline had pinged along our nervous systems, and we were giddily coming down.

I hate to admit it but before we left for the drive home, I made a point of calling my daughter so that if for some reason I didn’t survive the car ride home, she would have at least heard me tell her that I loved her one last time. The imagination will have its ways during times like these.

All this trauma and drama gave me lots to think about: reasons to love our bodies, ways to write about life through the body, how the body and what happens to it makes all the difference.

Some exercises for writing to, about and for the body:

1. Write a love letter to your body.

2. Write a dialogue with a body part. (I recommend reading Lynda Schor’s short story “Lips” from her collection The Body Parts Shop if you can.)

3. Write about a wound, an injury, or a frightening moment. How did your body react?

4. Give one of your characters a wound or take away a body part. How does that change the game?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for creating this blog. I find the prompts and guidance very helpful.