This is how it is: we live in these bodies we claim as our own. Yet I have to question, do we really own? Can we claim? What is it that is ours? What is it that I can claim as “me”? We play the part of ourselves, wear the outfits of our skin. We dress ourselves in the idea of ourselves. Try it on for size. Check to see if our ass looks hot it in. When it does, we think we have found the appropriate attire for the idea of ourselves. It is then that we start to claim.
One thing I know for certain: that is bullshit.
We cannot claim, but constantly strive for the idea of ourselves. Or maybe I just haven’t reached that level of zen yet, of being calm and assured of who I am. I almost rarely, and assume I never will feel like I am simply me. Or even a version of me. I don’t even know who “me” is. Even when I’m naked, when stripped of the costume of the everyday, I find myself trying to understand who and what this body is. Even when naked, I am still in performance, playing the part of figuring out and reconciling. I cannot strip myself of that.
And this is when things get tough: when we realize we can never escape our own skin, our own bodies. When we have that realization and know perhaps there is nothing else we can do but claim.
So we are back into the circle, the constant cycle of claiming and stripping. Stripping and claiming.
I sit in the center of my wooden bedroom floor, surrounded by brown cardboard boxes of myself, stupidly unlabled. These boxes contain parts of me I thought were important enough to haul across two state lines. I have moved from a large city to a smaller one, hoping to clear the unnecessary parts of my existence in order to find what lies underneath. To funnel myself down to me. And when I unpack one box, when I find the incredibly too-small black hoodie I haven’t worn in three years, I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I decided to bring its old cotton misshapen mass from Chicago to Minneapolis. I sit amidst a tangle of wonder at my decisions. At what moment did I seriously think I would wear the black hoodie decorated with sewn on, ripped off, and jaggedly re-sewn on again anarchist patches? A red image of Emma Goldman holding a bomb in one hand and a condom in the other. A green one with the words Food Not Bombs. A blue raised fist. I don’t even identify as an anarchist anymore. And yet, I once did. So there was a moment when I somehow reasoned that yes, I will shove this now rarely worn piece of clothing into a box and move its weight with me. And so I took it with me, as if in the case had I thrown it away I would have forgotten that at one time I carried a black sheet with a white spray painted anarchist sign on it, and went to protest the war protesters, screaming at them that they were all sheep for believing in the bullshit idea of a democratic government. As if only the fact of this black hoodie would hold the memories of my once disbelief that a supposedly unified body could represent the voice of the people. As if now only the hoodie could remind me that I at one point felt power in the supposed fact that I could be a body representing myself, the unified voice of the Chelsey, for the Chelsey. As if I at one point knew who I was.
I played the part of anarchist, wore the correct hoodie, danced around naked and barefoot in the pouring rain, hollering that no one could control me. I was “me.”
Now, now that I am staring down at this hoodie crumpled in my lap, chuckling at those memories, laughing at myself because just a day ago I seriously thought I could not chuck that torn-up representation of what I at one point thought was me. As if I wouldn’t remember myself without the clothing. And now as I meander through the maze of my thoughts, feel those memories alive in my bones, I realize I can indeed shed the clothes, finally throw away the screen printed patches saved up over those anarchist years, and that my skin, my body remembering, knowing, will always be there. I toss the hoodie in the dumpster out back.
August 12, 2011, job interview, 59th and Nicolett, 10am.
Position: receptionist at an acupuncture clinic. On my resume, I embellished my receptionist experience, bloated it with the language I thought the owner would want to see, and banked on the fact that my dreadlocks would hum to him I was some sort of holistic medicine die-hard who he, of course, could not refuse to hire what with that sort passion and wealth of experience. I am in his small office, the makeshift clinic of house-turned-business, have been brought back from the front desk (small room), through the storage hallway (tiny), to the acupuncture room (too calming in its earth tones). While taking the two-and-a-half strides it took to pass through the hallway, I spot an electric tea kettle. This sets off my sensors. But first, I am sat down in a chair in the small room where all the acupuncture magic happens, being questioned by a skinny man in wire rimmed glasses what my experience has been with answering phones, with holistic medicine. I talk, he nobs with wide eyes and listens. He tells me about the wonders of acupuncture, I nod with wide eyes and listen. I am distracted by the image of the tea kettle. Working here, I realize, would require me to drink tea, not coffee, in order to set an example for the clients. My skin starts to tingle, and it’s not from the acupuncturist’s words as he describes how the tiny needles work on the energy flow of the body. My craving for a cup of coffee zaps through my own body. The need for a cigarette quickly follows suit. Before the interview is even over, before he hires me on the spot, I realize the enormity of the bullshit and ridiculous situation into which I have dragged myself.
And then the dress code is explained: business casual, no jeans, and, as I am gently told by the acupuncturist as he motions towards my nose, no facial piercings. The brown stud in my nose is nothing compared to the large metal hoop I had on earlier in the morning, the hoop I replaced with the stud in order to look more professional. But I am desperate for a job, and so I agree to be hired, to begin training that moment (unpaid, I am later informed).
A question I ask to the woman (the man’s sole employee, soon to be replaced by me) who is in the process of explaining the specifics of my job: what is the policy on tattoos? As I ask this question, I briefly push back my white long sleeves to reveal four of my inkings. And as she says I will have to ask the boss, I laugh in my head as I already know the answer, that there will be a big fat NO to these tattoos., laugh at the thought that if he only knew he was looking at a mere third of my tattoo collection he would quickly escort me out of the office door. The woman tries to stay hopeful for me, tries to convince me that maybe he will say yes, since the tattoos say Resilience and Serenity, since one is of a tree, and one reveals the phrase Human Thing. “Resilience and serenity, after all, are things that we encourage here.” And then I laugh in my head again, laugh at the thought that yeah, you fucking condone the use of needles, but only if they don’t pierce, if they don’t dig too deep in the search for ourselves.
Four hours later, when I finally get home, and after having left the unpaid training five hours earlier than I said I could stay, I strip off my professional looking white button-down collared long-sleeved shirt, light up a cigarette, and say only for myself to hear “Thank fucking god that’s over.” It is at that moment in which I suddenly feel like I have first claimed myself that day. It is 3pm. I go through half a pack of clove cigarettes, half a pack of Camel Lights throughout the rest of the day. I chug coffee, I settle into my own zen-like state.
Can’t I just get paid to be me?
This is how we work: by performing. By playing our parts. But who creates the roles? Who says we have to be something other than be ourselves to get paid, to live? Maybe I really am still wearing that anarchist hoodie. Maybe I do believe in the fact that we should be able to simply be ourselves all of the time in this society, that that is what freedom is, that that should be what make us alive, what makes us a living. And maybe if I can’t cut it getting paid for a performance, I’ll have to dive into that dumpster and bring the black hoodie back, find some establishment who will welcome me as the person in which I feel comfortable being. But even then I’ll still just be playing at some part of myself, and a younger part at that. I’ll still be looking in the mirror to see if the idea of me has a good ass. In my second day of sitting amongst a tangle of boxes, digging through what it is I think is me, I have just started to unpack the process, delving into the circle of figuring out who it is I think I am.