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tenderly embodied

December 3, 2011

Almost 10 years ago, I took a class in pottery, something I’d always been interested in but never tried. I never did get the hang of working on a pottery wheel — I was too tall and not sinuous enough to sit comfortably in that position — but I quickly realized that I really loved hand-building. I could sit down with a lump of clay and the barest germ of an idea, or no idea at all, and play with it until something evolved.

I also enjoyed experimenting with glazes in various combinations, with often surprising results. (Sometimes downright ugly, but sometimes beautiful, and everywhere in between.)

I still have many of the pieces I made during the three terms of pottery classes I ended up taking. I created many of them to be functional, so they hold oil pastels, dried rose petals, pencils and pens, paper clips, a handful of prickly Scottish heather, dirt, odds and ends I’ve picked up on walks.

Beyond occasionally swapping out their contents, I like handling the pieces themselves. With my eyes averted or closed, I run my fingers over walls that fit the curve of my hands, braided borders, oddly rough or bumpy sections, even some sharp edges. Only one piece is at all symmetrical, and that was an accident. Nothing looks or feels professionally made. Yet these are some of the works I’ve made that I’m proudest of. Making these pieces taught me more about what appeals to me, and what I love creating (as well as, what I don’t regret not being able to create), than years and years of painting and drawing, and reading, and thinking had.

I can pick up a ceramic piece that I made, 10 long years ago, and relive my discovery of a personal aesthetic. I can point out to someone else the qualities that matter the most, some of which you can see, but most of which you really need to feel, in both senses of the term (sense of touch, and emotions).

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I grew up feeling that being smart and living mostly inside my head would save me from forces trying to tear me apart. It was dangerous to feel too much, so I worked at staying abstracted and numbed. That was too drastic, so I tried to reenter the world of feeling, but not ‘too much’. Somewhere I got the idea that sensuality and hedonism and just admitting that people have bodies was akin to admitting that I wasn’t very bright, and that no one should take me seriously.

I aspired to be taken seriously, and being smart seemed like my best chance at it.

But it’s been a long and bumpy road. What I know, how I learn, happens by the ‘feel’ of things, not by logic or ‘rationality’. In fact, the major decisions I’ve made ‘using my head’ were all complete disasters. If instead I had teased out not just how I felt about the choice in front of me, but dug further to discover what I wasn’t allowing myself to want, and then pursued that … well, I would’ve had a totally different life.

I’ve pursued science all my life, but lately I’ve realized that, like both Christianity and secular humanism, science is not a good path for me. None of those paths are inclusive enough, because they all value human  beings over everyone else. And they all seem to value ‘thinking with your head’ not ‘thinking/feeling with your body’. I don’t want to transcend being a body; I want to revel in it, celebrate it.

But I seem much more sensitive to input than people who think with their heads. I’m easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, especially when social obligations are also present. It’s especially hard to navigate other people’s expectations when my body is telling me I need to get away from what’s happening, but there’s no socially acceptable way to say or do just that. I often find myself saying things, desperate to get away, that are social blunders. Spouse thinks I should always put other people’s expectations first, even beyond what I’m capable of dealing with. I can’t seem to get him to understand that when we get to the point where I’m being rude, it’s because I’m about to completely shut down. My spoons have completely run out, and I’m ‘running on fumes’. So I really can’t spare the energy to deal with other people’s reactions.

But then again, I know that I have anxiety disorders. I know what my body, my self, can bear, and what they can’t (because they tell me and I listen).  I put myself first.

Beginning with Sagittarius, I decided I would pay extra attention to what my body feels and is telling me. And then I would not perpetuate old ‘mental scripts’ about what that means. So, for example, I have trouble getting up in the morning. And once I wake up, I linger in bed, often thinking out loud. My old mental script (Mrs. Nocerino) would say I do those things because I’m lazy, and by implication, probably a ‘bad person’. My newer understanding, though, is that when I wake up, that’s often the best I feel all day physically. Once I get up and moving, I’m chilly and uncomfortable and often feel aches and pains. So, staying abed where I’m warm and cozy makes sense. Yeah, okay, I’m not gonna win awards for productivity, but so what? A lot of the most productive people I know manage that level of productivity by ignoring what their body is saying to them. (Which only works for so long.) I rarely get sick. Physically, I seem to be doing better than other people I know, so I think/feel I am doing things right for me, which is what matters most to me. How other people characterize my behavior is not something I have any control over.

So, I’m sitting at my laptop in my studio, cradling an osage orange in my hands, fingering its lime green cobbled skin, inhaling its citrusy scent, remembering the lovely walk in the woods this afternoon when I found it. Wondering which of the photographs I took will turn out. I inhabit my body, I am embodied, I am part of Earth’s body.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2011 22:17

    This is really lovely.

  2. Skyknight permalink
    December 5, 2011 16:29

    And yet, where is it written that one cannot think with both body AND mind? I’ll own that I’m almost entirely mind-thought, but perhaps that can be chalked up to my autism.

    I will admit that I’m still a little worried about the way Earth-respect tends to be evoked, as though our loyalties should end at the ionosphere–as though the Earth is the ONLY thing we ought to let ourselves worry about. Are the stars and comets, and the space-time fabric from which the solar system came forth, unworthy of our fealty somehow? I don’t dare bind myself to erroneous arbitrarity by concerning myself with JUST one planet, or just one star. Too much nobility and beauty in the cosmos entire, to only concern oneself with a single point of it.

    • December 6, 2011 23:10

      From what I understand of cognitive science, human beings do think with body and mind both. I have nothing against mind, but in my life, mind has been elevated over body, and I want them to be partners.

      I write about what I feel; I’m not telling anyone else how or what they should feel/think. I feel like I’m part of the entire cosmos. I look at stars and space with wonder. But I identify with Earth in ways I cannot quite explain.

  3. December 5, 2011 19:23

    I really resonate with what you’re saying here, perhaps even more so because I also am a potter. I think all of us know things in our bodies that go beyond reason or words, and we can learn a lot about ourselves when we take the time and attention to discover what our bodies intuitively know.

    • December 6, 2011 23:00

      Yes, that’s it. I feel much more than I can translate into words.

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