Thursday, September 23, 2010

In which the Subversive Librarian inches toward armistice...

It's been a long one, this lonely, futile little war against my body. Fifty years, and then some.

I’ve been at odds with it since I was a baby. When I was two, and I sucked on my thumb, I would rub the top of my nose with my index finger until I bled; so in my toddler pictures I've got a bright-colored bandage stretched across my nose. One day it might be navy blue with white stars; the next, perhaps, a red one instead.

But that was just the opening skirmish. As I grew up and grew older, the battles got fiercer and the stakes got higher. I never allowed myself to contemplate surrender, not for a second. My body was my adversary, my tormentor. My body was, I thought, the perfect mirror image of my soul, advertising to the world everything I couldn’t bear to face in myself. It betrayed me again and again, revealing what I thought was my true essence: ugly and useless, fat and incompetent and hopelessly clumsy.

And truly, some of this is grounded in fact. I am unathletic in the extreme. No matter how long or how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to do a single chin-up, or get on a horse by myself, or climb gracefully onto a stool, or look even marginally decent when I dance. No matter what my weight, nothing physical comes naturally to me.

Sometimes, when I watch a dancer lose himself in his art, or I see a skier traversing in the crisp sunshine, or I watch a kid run down a soccer field, I try to imagine what it must be like to be one with my body, to take joy in it, to just let it fly. That freedom has always eluded me, except in my imagination and the rare fleeting moment.

So I've spent more than half a century trying to figure out what to do with this foreign body. I've ignored it, neglected it, stuffed it, and starved it. I've binged on food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, spending, television, and most of all, an endless stream of self-loathing. I’ve denied it baths and clean clothes and routine hygiene. I’ve picked at my face like a crystal meth addict. Hell, I haven’t flossed since I left my kid’s father. At some level of my subconscious, it must seem a fitting punishment for breaking up our family.

The physical scars from these quiet campaigns are now permanent and disfiguring. The human body can take a lot, but there comes a time when it just can't bounce back any more. Skin stops unstretching, scars stop disappearing, and you realize – too late – that you probably should have taken better care of this creaky old vessel when you had the chance.

Now there are consequences. The kind of consequences you have to explain to new lovers. The kind that make you wonder if there's any point in trying to salvage this sorry-ass wreck.

"We have ceased fighting anything or anyone." Yes, yes, I know. Acceptance is the answer. It’s been drummed into me by my mother, my sponsors, my friends, even by a voice coach: I need to embrace my body, just as it is. Then, and only then, can we make progress together.

Well, okay. After all, we’re going to be roommates for a while longer, this alien and I. So it might behoove us to try to reach some sort of peace accord.

I suppose, then, a hat tip to my body is in order: My body may not be elegant, but generally speaking, it’s gotten me where I needed to go. When I’ve taken care of it, it’s taken pretty good care of me. It has responded to proper care. It helped me figure out that I’m gay. And most of all, it granted me my greatest, sweetest wish: to become a mother. It did that very well indeed, and because of it, I believe in miracles. These are not things to take for granted.

So I will begrudgingly act as if I am grateful for every one of my physical attributes. I will act as if I view my body not an adversary but as an important part of this experience called life.

Someday, maybe I’ll really believe that my body is of god, and I’ll be able to love it just as it is. I’m not there yet. But because I am flat-out exhausted from waging this loser of a war, it’s time for me to surrender.

So today, I will floss. Tomorrow, too. And perhaps the day after that, I will dance.


  1. I'm sending the Floss Police to your house. My mother is their Queen.

  2. Anonymous3:05 PM

    I loved this post. I have you on my computer bookmark; your posts are a guilty pleasure while I'm at work. I appreciate your insight and perspective. I too have never been one with my body. It is disarming, but for the most part I laugh about it- because it seems almost hysterical. How can a person NOT be in tune with their body? When I walk between tables and chairs, I invariably knock something over or trip because I don't know how to judge my body length or width or my depth! Thanks for being you. Patrick