Monday, February 6, 2012

Outer Shell

                                                         (this photo is by Ryan McGinley)
Recently I was looking at some photos of scars and somehow, really without meaning to, I began seeing photos of the wounds that made the scars. When I say wounds, what I mean is open, bloody, skin-flapping, deep to the bone, gashes. I couldn’t look away! I mean, of course, that’s exactly what I did at first, but then I went back for a second look. After a while, it wasn’t human, it was just the torn fabric of skin wrapped around some raw steak. Ok, that’s still disgusting, but I don’t know, I was curious. I realized that when I took away the thought of pain, horror and shock, suddenly it wasn't so difficult to look at. It was just tan, red and white things.

I remember looking at a particular book in the library at school. We’d all huddle around the table, some of us leaning over on our knees on the chairs, and look at photos of skin diseases and burns and malformations. We’d giggle and gasp and then go silent: Ohhhhhhhh. It was fascinating. And we’d go back to it again and again. There was a weird sort of recognition and disconnect about it being an actual body that belonged to an actual human.

The idea that our body is just a shell is a strange one and yet, of course that’s all it is. We live inside it, all our impressions of and connections to things and people and places come through it. We become obsessed with different ways of feeding it and giving it rest. The body shows our age; usually it is the first thing we are judged by. It is what makes us conscious of ourselves, in an awkward way. I wonder if we stepped out of it every night and hung it up in a closet, if we’d feel differently about it.

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