Body Horror and the Visceral
Longing and heartache are stubborn feelings. They tend to get caught at the back of your chest, or lodged between ribs; the nudge in your stomach you get just before you start crying. Loss is a knot of thick linen that sits in the small of your back and grief is a weight just above the pelvis.
The idea of being out of control of my body is a stressful one. I hate the idea of turning into something or someone I don’t recognise – something fleshily, materially different. I’ve been in this body for twenty-two years and counting and it’s seen its fair share of changes over that time, but almost always slow enough to become accustomed; the scar on my right arm has gotten steadily smaller in comparison to the rest of me. I have a sense of how my body sits in a space too, whether it’s standing to attention or (as I am now) slumped on a pillow in my bed, head pressing into the headboard and laptop resting on splayed thighs. I want to keep that sense of myself, of bodily understanding that I type with two fingers and I sleep on my left side and I fit through gaps in tables if I stand on tiptoe slightly.
I fidget a lot too; swing legs, maybe just to give myself something to do. The problem with buzzing onwards from project to project is your body forgets how to stand still; it forgets how to be when not in motion. Have you ever been bored numb? Lips tingling, dry mouth; heavily weightlessness falling into the carpet. Beyond even counting sheep. Sometimes, when I’m like that, I wonder if my limbs will fall off my body, like a doll with no hinges, and I don’t even always have the energy to remind myself that won’t happen. Stillness and numbness and that lukewarm-but-cold, cotton-wool-white-noise feeling makes my skin crawl. The prospect of skin crawling makes me feel a bit funny, in the same sort of way that the idea of keeping your eyes peeled makes me feel a bit sick. Don’t even get me started on bursting into tears.
This is inevitably a gendered thing and a political thing; teenage(girl)hood is in many ways horrifying and tumultuous and messy. Our bodies change too fast for our skin to catch up and we stumble into adulthood, wide-eyed and profoundly not-ready-for-any-of-this. We glean as much as we can from the worlds alongside us; as much as the 2000s were a golden age for trashy pop, we took all that seriously once. We shouted and we cried and we sung along to Paramore’s Misery Business without giving a second thought to the loosely misogynistic undertones (for which Hayley Williams, blessed be her name, has since apologised). This was once the stuff our bodies were made of; all angst and heartache and terrible, terrible decisions; a longing for something that we can’t quite place.
Maybe embodying is harder than we give ourselves credit for.