Exoskeleton

17934563_440062826327421_3878326052056989696_nI’ve spent too many years, mostly in the half of my life spent at work, sitting with my legs crossed, and some of the many marks on them now attest to that. I hate them about as much as I hate all the other myriad marks on my problematic skin, and yet entering my thirties I am coming to accept that they will go nowhere, no matter how much I hate them, and I must simply do my best to — at worst — ignore or not see them, and — at best — learn to love them. I don’t love much about how I look, so this is a large task to ask of myself, but it would be irresponsible of me not to ask it, simply because it is unpleasant and difficult.

Summer is almost here; the time of year in which I can indulge most often in lovely walks around my neighborhood and my city, but in which I cover the least amount of skin, thanks to just about the best weather in the world, and this always presents a conundrum. I want to walk up the hill to the park near me that overlooks the city I love, I want to lie on the beach and swim in the ocean that I once took to like a fish; I want to stretch my long legs out in the sun, the grass, the water. I want to do these things unselfconsciously. I want to do these things without the back of my mind whispering to me — sometimes yelling — how much I hate the skin I inhabit. I want to not care. I want to be free of the vision of myself that is ugly, flawed, marked, imperfect. I want to ghost through the water and the air as freely as I did when I was young, before these marks came to me, before I realized, desperately and angrily and painfully, they would never leave. I want to believe that those who say I am beautiful just as I am are not keeping the exceptions to that beauty to themselves out of misguided kindness, that they mean what they say, that I am beautiful as I appear now, and not as I wish to. I want to no longer feel aching envy in my chest when I walk behind all those beautiful girls with their flawless skin who have no idea how lucky they are to not have to think of it at all. I want to walk and sit and be, and to like what I see when I look down and observe myself, which — as the late John Berger once so eloquently described it — all women must do, in some way, every moment of our lives. I wish I knew how. But summer is almost here; it will arrive whether I am ready for it or not.

It is a surprisingly late week of cold weather at the moment. It’s both a reprieve in that I can hide behind extra layers for another week, at most two or three, but it will end, of course. I am working on not seeing what is there, mapped on my skin, which no one has been able to explain the presence of, nor fully heal or erase. I am working on pretending no one else sees it. Eventually I hope I will no longer consider these marks a burdensome, ugly thing to carry; that they will simply be there, and I will no longer care.

Tattoos, in my life, have served as expression, reminders, declarations, and challenges to myself. When I think of them, all of which I have chosen very carefully, I see my body as a canvas. I’m trying to focus more on that, and less on the rest.

“Tugging at the darkness, word upon word…”

“I am beautiful/ Molding my own world/ The old me is behind/ I will march ahead anew.”

Your flesh has come of age

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“You destroy me. You’re good for me.” — Elle, Hiroshima, Mon Amour

(Rest in peace, lovely, prolific Emmanuelle Riva.)

“Here is what we know for sure: there is no end to want. Want is a vast universe within other vast universes. There is always more, and more again. […] One can make a life out of focusing on what one does not have, but that’s no way to live. A seat at the table is plenty.” — Elisa Albert

I’ve learned in recent years I cannot be careless with my words, which when I was younger, I realize now I often was. For a while, as a bitchy little contrarian teenager, who knew no other way of dealing with simultaneously sticking out like a sore thumb (due to being 4-6 inches taller than the 4,000 other students I shared a campus with for four years) and being completely invisible (due to, well, no one ever taking notice of me, regardless what I did or did not choose to do), I almost wore it like a badge of honor. Most young people shrouding themselves in protective sarcasm do, though we like to think, before we (hopefully) grow up, this is a novel or unique approach.

First for others who I care for, but also for myself. I was able to talk myself down so casually. (It’s a hard, hard habit to break, to quote a song off one of my favorite albums of last year. I still do it.) I was taught, approaching 30, the consequences my words can have, solid as actions, lasting as hammering nails into wood. Why was this such a difficult lesson to learn? Why did it come so late? Is this really just the consequence of a life spent mostly alone and lonely? Possibly. If no one around you cares what you say, it’s challenging to assign any weight to those words. But thinking on it now, there are so many things others have said so carelessly to me that I know I’ve never forgotten.

Another thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that there truly is no end to want or desire — regardless what it’s focus might be — frustrating, maddening, depressing, terrifying as that can be; how it can make you want to tear away your own skin. I continue to learn that being mindful is the only way to push through it, to the necessity of sheer survival, and cherishing what you do receive, which is rarely what you expect to, and even less often what you hope for. To give more. That, in fact, wanting things is good, and yet not getting everything you want is also good.

A lot of things have fallen away from me in these recent years, plenty of which have been freeing, while others have been dismaying. A best friend of over two decades, any close family ties with my father’s half of the family (I never really had any to my mother’s, with a few exceptions, to begin with), expectation of growing out of my invisibility. I suppose when I was younger I believed, or at least hoped, that someday I would, after so many years of cocooning myself, eventually emerge as a colorful, striking, beautiful butterfly — the ultimate cliche! — but, no. I remain, as ever, the sort of homely little moth who blends into the sweaters you’ve forgotten about in the back of your closet.

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But fighting your nature is no better (nor less futile) than fighting your desire, so — entering my 30s, continuing to grow older — seems as good a time as any to accept such lessons. I’ve certainly gained much more mental clarity and emotional stability over the past year or so, which seems to point to it being the right direction. There is so much negativity and fear in the world, growing every day; fighting constant battles with myself, on top of struggling with those greater issues of humanity, seems a great waste of energy. Onward, little brown moth. Someone, at least, may see one day the little holes you left behind, even if they’ll never see you.