Being a Body

I had my first “Bodies and Theology” class today. It was great. Apropos of my last post, we started class with theatre-influenced movement exercises. At one point, the professor (who is wonderful) asked us to walk like dogs. While my classmates remained upright, I dropped to the floor and scurried around like a puppy. I got to be silly–and there is exhilarating bravery in silliness. We also created some body sculptures, an exercise borrowed from the Theatre of the Oppressed. Posing together without any foreplanning, we attempted to convey the concepts of “knowledge,” “theology,” and “God” through our bodies. 

“God” was the most challenging; our professor invited those who weren’t part of the sculpture to modify it. They joined our hands together until we formed a circle. As a result, the body sculpture that started as a vision of disconnected hierarchy (one person standing, others kneeling and cowering), became an image of connection and interdependence. A very different understanding of God. Rich discussion arose from the choices that we made to represent each idea, the beliefs and biases that they revealed. 

In this class, we are invited to discover God as people with physical bodies. Christianity isn’t traditionally good at that, so I’m excited about this opportunity. It also feels good to have a break from the intensely cerebral space of other classes. When we shared our reasons for taking the Bodies class, I said that I wanted to work on being ‘present’ as a body and to experience things without immediately intellectualizing them. For those who follow my kink journey, that’s also a goal I have for my current exploration of submission. My Dominant said early on that she wanted to see me “feeling without thinking.” What a terrifying thought!

Thinking and feeling are my bread and butter. My strong feelings are normally mediated through intellectual, critical thought, which is useful most of the time. It can, however, lead to a sense of distance from my body when I most want to be present, as if I’m more of a brain floating along than a full being. It sometimes means that sexual experiences feel ‘hotter in hindsight,’ more intensely erotic after I’m removed from the situation than in the moment. I hope that the movement and physicality that this class requires, my continued kink exploration, and the interplay between those two different realms will encourage me to enjoy my body and connect with the Divine in a new way–as an embodied person.

Simon Says

This thought was already rattling around in my brain before I saw that this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is “Authentic,” but reading that word clarified why the thought needles me. I will illustrate through anecdotes (note: some overthinking and self-deprecation here).

I have an unusual skill, which is that I’m very good at “Simon Says” (that childhood game where you have to follow “Simon’s” orders, but only if they specify “Simon says”–I could see this going in a smutty direction some time, but not today). I once won a Simon Says competition, beating over a hundred people (I knew not to stop spinning when the next command was given).

My skills had been honed by theatre camp. My first director was a champion Simon; she would call out commands at lightning speed, sometimes tacking “Simon says” onto the end to catch us off-guard or making the wrong motion. The only way one “Simon” was able to best me was by tricking me (“Simon says do this,” he said, while my eyes were closed; I opened my eyes, of course). I wasn’t just good at Simon Says; I also fared well as a statue when we played “Museum guard.” The object of that game was to be the last statue standing while the guards walked through, trying to get you to unfreeze (usually by making you laugh). 

As I look back on that time, I find it interesting that while I struggled with improv games, I was unusually good at games that required me to be focused, still, silent, and obedient, a blank slate. I didn’t even particularly like them, but I liked the simplicity they fostered and the success of winning. 

Very occasionally, I wonder, “Is that my authentic self?” It unsettles me. I don’t want to feel trapped in one mode, which those games required. I don’t want to be shamed by an inability to act decisively when I need to. I’m not clay waiting to be molded; I have my own base characteristics and agency (right?). I want to be authentic, but when I overthink, I worry that my authentic self isn’t someone that I want to be.  

What I believe to be true most of the time is that I actually have many authentic selves, and I don’t have to stick with just one. I can enjoy entering that flow state of obedience without worry, as long as I feel ethical (as when I devote hours playing techie, helping a friend to edit a musical piece to her exact specifications). I can greatly enjoy being a focused, vigilant presence–I carry basic first aid supplies around for a reason. Today, I gave two classmates Neosporin. One compared me to Mary Poppins. #Goals. I also like to be mischievous and silly. I drew enormous eyeballs on the common room white board this afternoon (and got others to join in drawing!) just for the amusing thought that someone will discover them later. I sing to myself when I can. Last night, it was some mixture of “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Elendil’s Oath.” 

For me, the key to true authenticity is a system of ethics that I choose to live by–love, justice, compassion, and curiosity, to name a few. I am allowed to express those values in obedient, fierce, dramatic, quiet, aggressive, wise, and silly ways, without jeopardizing the core of who I want to be. I am many things, but as long as I strive to live out my values, I am authentic. For the moment, that means I get to draw all the eyeballs, sing all the songs, and follow to my heart’s content, but I will not be roped into another game of Simon Says any time soon. 

Image source

An Epistle on Theatre and Kink

[Image description: Photo is of a slender white person wearing a cream-colored winter coat, dark gray button-down shirt, long, fuzzy white scarf, and fitted dark brown boots standing on the edge of a wooden stage.]

I’ve been a theatre kid since about age ten. Cast as a “merchant/servant” in a summer youth production of Aladdin, I caught the theatre bug (or rather, it caught me). I’d thought when I signed up that I would want to work behind the scenes on set design. Instead, I suddenly craved the spotlight. Eager for more “work,” I made a diagram of the ‘palace’ floor for my personal use and thought intently about my purpose in the story. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t study Stanislavsky.  

I milked my one line for all it was worth. “There would be peace in the marketplace if they would just lock him up!,” I snarled and tutted as a merchant in Act I, later transforming into a meek and gormless palace servant for Act II. It felt glorious to get a larger role in the next summer production, but even in that first, tiny role, I had carved out a space in fantasy that made me feel integral to making Aladdin’s story ‘work.’ 

Unlike me, the characters I played knew exactly where they belonged in the world, and they lived in that satisfaction. I, their storyteller, lived in their satisfaction second-hand. I started to find a role in the local theatre community too, clicking with fellow actors in ways that I never had with my classmates. I felt a sense of belonging in being among creative people working toward a common goal. No longer just the shy art girl, I was an actor–and I could be anything I chose. 

Over the years, I acted in several other shows and attempted tech work. I discovered that I was funny. I also discovered (during an Edgar Allan Poe-themed production) that I could be very creepy and unsettling when I wanted to be. 

The final curtain was always bittersweet. I wanted the magic to last just a little bit longer. I remember keeping the heavy makeup on as long as possible (yes, even the Poe makeup–I’m sure I frightened some locals during that cast party). Acting became about more than attention; acting was a retreat. It helped me feel safe to try new things, even silly and embarrassing things. It demanded that I be embarrassed, proud, menacing, hapless, and fierce, over and over. Theatre gave me space to be all those things without losing my place in the community.

Now, every character that I have ever played lives in my mind, but I am more than the sum of them. And that mysterious extra bit that’s just me? That’s what I bring to my kink life. It doesn’t surprise me that many kinksters are also theatre people. The craft, the thrill, the freedom to “play pretend” and explore without losing the respect of peers–kink makes room for all these precious things. Kink gives me experiences that even theatre couldn’t. But I wouldn’t be comfortable in kink if not for my time with theatre, and theatre is special to me too. 

It’s been a couple of years since I was last in a production; my current schedule just doesn’t allow for the weeks of consistent commitment that theatre requires. I miss it. I take what I learned from acting into my activism, my kinky relationships, my friendships, and my work. These things all belong in my life. And when I have time for a show? I’m auditioning.