Why would you want to do the least?
Audre Lorde, feeling deeply and reclaiming the body for what it is
I can finally see the outlines of people's bodies. Hell, three weeks ago all I saw were puffer jackets; now half naked dudes are doing pull ups in an outdoors gym near my flat. I walk past, breathing into my belly and noting the full capacity of my lungs. Air! Wow. One foot in front of the other. All of this tickles me. It's liberating and as if I'm oscillating between something ungraspable and something taking up visible space, volume and movements. The body is always, always on my mind. As a woman, I compare my body to those of other women and look at myself in the mirror often. As a diagnosed hypochondriac, I constantly worry about catching a virus; developing a disease; dying.
This week I finished reading Sebene Selassie's You Belong: A Call for Connection. There was one sentence I noted down. “Each of us has a 100% chance of dying.” I knew that. I knew that theoretically, in my mind, but I was yet to feel it in my body, where it would hit like a ton of bricks. At once the life long effort to sweat on the mat and eat more vegetables and participate in other pre-agreed signifiers of 'health' seemed to be coming from a place of punishment and avoidance of disease and death, rather than honouring, celebrating and feeling the flesh and bones in the moment.
Having a body suddenly seems like a mystical gift and a tool to feel through the world. In her essay Uses of the Erotic, Audre Lorde calls us to do the difficult but the most important work of our lives: to feel deeply and to live with joy. She calls this energy 'the erotic', and ascribes it a feminine quality that has been repressed, flattened out, reduced and allocated to sex and two dimensional pornography.
I recall reading the essay for the first time back in 2018 and thinking I knew what Lorde was writing about. But the erotic escapes the thinking and instead resides in feeling. You know you have experienced it. It isn't conducive to a lot of explaining. The erotic traverses many planes: spiritual, bodily, sexual, work, relationships, self. Lorde encourages us to have high standards:
“It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford…”
Now, this seems like a lot of work. (Give me a break, I am perpetually tired.) However, living in accordance with the erotic is not impossible. I suppose once you locate it, you simply follow, feel through it acutely while it is at play and infuse it through as many areas of your life as possible. I talk about the erotic after talking about the body because the two now seem completely entwined. How radical is it to follow the energy that we continue to flatten and repress? How radical is it to find joy, and I mean, fully stretched and filled to the brim joy in one's body, regardless? I don't mean body positivity. I simply mean giving the body a nod, each day. Feeling it.
At its core, following the erotic could be about descending from the rational and admitting that we are not above the intuitive, the bodily and the spiritual. That we are in fact in all those things. Perhaps “I feel, therefore I am” should have a place right by the “I think, therefore I am.” Being in one's body and feeling through what is happening requires, again, giving in (I wrote about this last week.) Yeah, that does sound like a threat to me, to give up the control, to let the body do its thing. So I bury the feels with something else, with distractions. I wonder if I bury a lot of the erotic too, in denying the role my body plays in living fully, with all its pleasures, pains and wounds?
Writing this essay was a drag - for the first time in weeks. And then I realised that what I do here, each week, is following the erotic. Regardless of what it looks like, whether I am proud of it or think it's good, engaging with art and writing is doing the necessary work of infusing my life with the erotic. I am demanding of myself, because in a deeply felt pursuit of joy, there will always be difficulties along the way and those should be felt too. I am reminded of Blood Orange's song Jewelry. It starts with an arresting sample of Janet Mock's voice proclaiming the following:
“So, like, my favourite images are the ones where… someone who isn't supposed to be there, who's like in a space, a space where, we were not ever welcomed in or we were not invited, yet we walk in and we show all the way up. People try to put us down by saying “she's doing the most'' or “he's way too much.” But, like, why would we want to do the least?”
The inventory (even this whole section is always, always about the body):
The sight // Definitely me, in flares, in the mirror.
The touch // Cold water in the morning.
The taste // The first kebab eaten in full daylight in years. Thank you, pandemic, for providing me with opportunities to eat this food at some other time than 3am, drunk, waiting for a taxi.
Consider. // Are you too much?
PS. Shout out to my fellow writer Yee Ting, whose fantastic essay made me revisit Lorde's work.