Mean Body

I can't remember exactly when this concept of a "mean body" started tumbling around in my head. I know it was regarding something someone said on some group text thread. I made it the name of the group, and then the phrase just stuck around me for awhile. Has continued to.

I think I was likely listening to The Body Keeps the Score, thinking about all the ways one's body holds their experiences, thinking about my chronic pain and unresolved trauma, the way my father smoked 4 packs a day and drank only coffee and cheap beer, the way my other father responded when I brought up concern for his black body driving home every night alone. The image of the body has become a cliche in contemporary poetry. It's even been a few years since I've heard someone moan about embodiment or "the body" being evoked in a poetic or academic context, which means not only has its "moment" come but it has worn out its welcome and mostly disappeared from the discourse.

Except that it hasn't, bodies just continue to be present. Women's bodies, black bodies, immigrant bodies, homeless bodies. They seem to pile up. My dog shook a possum in her mouth in our backyard, our yard was then littered with expelled baby possum bodies. Our political moment is teeming with bodies, what felt like an insular obsession from those of us continually embroiled in them has exploded onto the national scene in seemingly every corner, from pussy grabbers to travel bans to white supremacists fighting antifa and a never ending stream of police brutality.

My bio-dad shut down in a lot of ways at a few different stages of his life. One when my mom left him in 1992, another when he got laid off from the LA Times in 2009, and yet another when his body started to fail him too early in life. He refused the doctor or visitors or trips outside of his house, except to get beer and vaporizer cartridges for his e-cig. I was partly surprised when he made it to my wedding, and utterly shocked when he opened the door a few days before the wedding, a gaunt corpse of an old man at only 62. Four months later the cops found his body in his bathroom during a "wellness check."

My other dad, the man my mother married when I was a kid, who fathered me in all the ways bio-dad couldn't, would get up every morning by 4am to get to the gym before his workday all through my middle and teenage years. In his early 50s his doctor told him he had to stop working out, he'd pushed his body so far that his heart rate no longer increased after 20 minutes of jogging on a treadmill. He could end up overworking himself to death.

Years later, after the murder of Philando Castile by Minnesota cops I laid awake one night thinking about my dad's 45 minute commute each way from suburban Houston to the middle of the city, full of anxiety about his driving while black. I called him and tried to connect over my hatred for the institutional body of the police in the US. I expected commiseration, but his "both sides" argument left me shaking my head and somewhat speechless.

I observe the relationship between my mind and body: the effects of yoga, even once, on my anxiety; the sneaky tension in my shoulders when typing; the meditative epiphanies that flow when biking; the lethargic cloud in my brain, the psycho-physical manifestation of depression keeping me at a distance from my emotions. The body keeps the score, so how do we settle it? 

Writing hasn't solved anything for me in my life except that it's continually brought me closer and closer to the truth, so, writing through the mean body will maybe bring something into light.