Sunday, January 31, 2010

(My) Body

★★★★Submitted by Sarah Welch★★★★
(who can be reached at either The Body Collective address, or at

I am awake at 4 in the morning, again, something I haven't been in quite this way for a long time. This way being alert, lucid, and feeling nowhere remotely close to sleep. I think it is because I am working on a creative piece about my year of heavy-duty high school insomnia and in the process have found the place where it still lives in me. If there is anything I've learned, it's that everything that you experience still lives in you, no matter how long it's been out of the forefront. I think I am awake also because after a spurt of long days with no engagements, mostly spent in bed, tomorrow I am working, and it is my instinct to wear myself down ahead of time. This itself a bastardization of the finals-time instinct to build as much pressure as possible to achieve maximum productivity.

I have a friend for whom momentous and often tragic things happen on the 14th of certain months, or anyway, used to. He writes about this with elegance and grace and a tad bitterness. For me, it is not 14ths in all corners of my life, a big numerological answer, but it is certainly cycles and anniversaries, uncanny in their returns. Is it a coincidence that although I am not in school now, was not last year, my body and brain are attempting to relive and recreate what it is to be trapped under piles of work in the darkening Minnesota December? It's as if the past year inserted itself without my body's knowledge or consent.

When I was an insomniac was the first time I felt the heft and joy of my own mortality. It's hard not to when you are so thin and worn, thoughts and heartbeats equally palpable. Mortality is a funny word. It implies death, but it also, to me, implies life manifested. The weight of one's self, the knowledge of one's physical presence in space. It's a feeling alternately scary and reassuring.
I have always been somehow outside of my body, disconnected. In sports, this makes me lousy; in small incidental injuries, cuts and scrapes; needlessly panicky. Just ask Mike, who once drove me around St. Paul trying to soothe me out of the (deep, but minor) battle wound I got from a number 10 can in the deli where we worked. Every time something little happens to me, I think I'm dying.

I once had a conversation with Pam about this disconnect and how it is maybe endemic to most of us, Welches that is. We live in our heads and our hearts more than we live in our bodies. We do not always connect with what our hands are doing, do not accept an innate flow between body and brain. When I was in therapy, I had to constantly be reminded to notice how things felt in my body, to pay attention to what was happening there.

This disconnect has also led me to really appreciate the moments when I sink wholly into my physical being, no matter the circumstance. I grew up playing a lot of dangerous games to see how run down, how physically aware I could make myself. When you reach a peak of exhaustion, after 36 or 48 hours awake, it's a real high. As I get older, those games lose both their appeal and their possibility - I need certain amounts of sleep to be a functional human being the next day, now. I need to eat a varied diet and I need to eat regularly throughout the day. I need to hydrate properly. I suppose I always needed those things, but I wasn't reminded in the daily course of events - forcing the feelings of hunger and exhaustion and maintaining my daily routine through them reminded me that I was alive, that I inhabited this flesh and blood machine, and that it needed me to do certain things to stay comfortable.

I am young, very young, but I feel so old in certain ways. Remembering everything that I remember makes me feel old. I am amazed at the ways that I can track and date, that I have grown into my skin, which I work hard every day to feel embodied in, and the ways that my physical consciousness has changed and strengthened over time. I feel like I live in this body, now. I want to do things to make it work the best it possibly can, for as long as it possibly can. I know that I'll be carrying the physical reminders of my many years of extreme stress for a long time to come, and I'm eager to be more present and aware, and to remedy any of the damage that I can.

When Lauren was here we sat among candles in my living room and talked about this. And I said to her, I go through these spells where my mortality is so evident to me, every near death miss a lightning shock to my system, but not a surprise. Walking or biking down a street, so many near misses with cars. We are simply hurtling past one another, blindly trusting in our infallibility. I say to her, thinking of how jangly and alien I feel in my body, how unfamiliar it still feels to me sometimes, I just don't think I'll grow old. And she says to me, You have always said that. Since you were 12, 15. You have never thought you would grow old.

I have always had a sense of this. Limits. Or maybe it's just that I have always had this nervousness in my physical self, feeling impermanent and accident-prone there.

I am thinking about these things for three reasons:

a) I'm awake, in the middle of the night! It feels like old times.

b) Emily and I had a conversation a while back, when we were making The Carnival, about how writing is a physical act. While she danced and spoke and I wrote and spoke, everything that we were doing was a cocktail of the physical, the emotional, the cerebral. Never separated. Since then, I try to be really conscious of what's happening in my body while I write or type. Right now I have been typing intensely for a while, so I am getting a little tight in my right palm.

c) This site has been neglected, and needs some love, food, water from us.

Originally posted at

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