Of Flesh and Not Flesh

I’m curled up in the tiniest space in which I can fit. And not fit comfortably, just fit. It’s 1997 and I am visiting a friend in Chicago. I took the bus up along a rumbling highway. No, I took a plane. The space allotted to me is little more than the space for cargo. It’s 1991 and my first day of college. We have a 12 by 12 room for three wide, tall, and lanky men. It’s 1988 and the best parts of me are kept hidden underneath an elevated bed or tucked between the plywood and the mattress in a notebook, in between college-ruled lines. In a crib. In a plastic bin in a maternity ward. In a world all my own. In a few dividing cells.

Across a coffee shop in Chicago I see a woman I have never met. She is absent mindedly drinking tea while pouring over some papers she has unclasped from inside a yellow manila envelope. I am drawn to her. Suddenly this world which has felt so small feels expansive. I know with all that I am that if I walk up to her and say hello she will recognize me. Our future will be laid out in front of us, the great wide plain of love, an odd story of how we met, and a family. But the distance is too great, the steps too big. I cannot muster the courage to make my feet move across the tile floors between us.

I’ll write her a letter, the amazing woman from freshman orientation. I’ve never written a letter before, not a letter like this. I had a pen pal in ninth grade, someone in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. But I never knew what to write to a stranger. This time I know. I’ll pour my heart and my hopes, my fears and my flesh, my very being into the front and back of one page. I will fit myself in between lines. By the time we meet again on that first day of college, unpacking into our 12 by 12 crates, she will know all of me.

Just before sleep my meditation sometimes consists of trying to feel every inch of my flesh, to inhabit it completely. Sometimes on the run I imagine myself to be a tiny ball of light in my chest, less than a cell wide and a cell high, shining out from the spot behind the bone that combines the left and right of my ribs. That light reaches out to the fiber optics at the end of each of twenty digits and ignites the giant mixing bowl of traffic lights and headlights in my mind. Sometimes I try to escape this body. I breathe out so thoroughly that I bat against the chain link fence and see the spot in the forest between the trees where I will disappear into the wide wilderness. This body is meat. It is not me. It is all I will ever be.

Rumi asks, “Who makes these changes?” Rumi was a spirit unencumbered by flesh. And yet flesh made manifest. And yet, flesh that was not whole until he met his teacher. And yet, that teacher cracked him open and released what was trapped in flesh. And yet, Shams broke him when he took his body and left, and was killed. And Rumi, in his wanting of Shams, finally lived.

What I am trying to say is that I want to fully inhabit this body. It is only on this hardware that my being will look and act and feel like me. It is only through this body that I will know my self and only through this body that I will know others. But I am not this body. I am not this flesh. The words I write, the ideas, the stories, those will carry on in the strange combinations I have jotted down for others. But even the words need a body.

A woman lived ten thousand years ago of whom I am a descendant, many women, many men. Had they not each eaten a hearty meal, pulled plants from their roots, slaughtered animals big and small, laid down at night with each other in sweaty sex, been drawn into union and conversation, protected by and protected their tribe, fought over territory and won, I would not exist. I know nothing of any of them. I owe them nothing. I owe them the existence of this flesh.

We are software, minds and ideas and spirits. But software must be written and stored, executed and replicated. It is not hardware, but cannot exist without hardware. Physical media. The earth merely revving models.

Sometimes I feel compelled to write. Like the voice inside of me is me. Sometimes I am drawn to eyebrows, the cock of a hip, the way a person sits a pen against their head while they are thinking, the twist of their concentrating lips. Sometimes I inhabit this flesh and sometimes I am nearly free of it. Sometimes I feel like little more than lines of code.

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A day is not done, until it's filled with words.

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