Posted by: M.C. | 3 February 2011

Twist or Shout?

What if it were like this: We each enter this life bewildered. And that bewilderment dissipates as others hand us vocabularies for naming the world. They provide us lists of what things are to be called: objects, experiences, ideas, communities, people. The “people,” of course, includes us. Parents, peers, popular culture, teachers, and priests distribute list upon list. However, we soon discover that these lists do not all agree. Some of them overlap substantially; some come in completely different alphabets. As a result, no one accepts all of the lists provided. We all reject a good chunk of the vocabulary they contain, but most people (I think) can find a few lists that they decide more or less fit. They might be called “American” or “God” or “middle class”; they might have as their heading “Christian” (or Muslim or even atheist). Some people swallow their given list whole, while other select from various lists like a Chinese menu. All well and good. Now, some of us fall under the category of “marked.” That is, when people call someone “normal” or “everyday” or “average,” we marked folks aren’t the ones they have in mind. Something about us makes us stand out from the general social expectation. This might be a melanin-related condition, or connected to what does (or does not) hang between my legs. It might be about whether my legs or other appendages or other bodily organs all function in the generally accepted way. This places me outside, and because I come from some place that’s “outside,” I find all of the lists mainly wanting. Something in us marked folks learns this lesson early. I learn to sidestep, to bend or lean a little so that I fit into the picture. Most of us do anyway. I twist my body and mind close enough to the borders of the lists that I can be seen at least peripherally. Maybe I become accustomed to these odd positions, to attaching a vocabulary to ourselves that mostly hangs on. But one day I feel the muscle pull against the curve of my spine or the scoop of my pelvis. One day the ligament snaps back, and the list falls off, and then I have to choose: Continue in this more upright carriage or adapt. To continue means to resist, even to battle. Adapting means to temper that sense of myself, to let go of a part (sometimes peripheral, sometimes essential) of how I want to name and act in the world. Simple. Continue or adapt. Here’s the thing. I’ve gotten myself twisted. I’ve had help, but I can unbend and call it straight, whatever else the world calls it. I can name these new postures. See, it hurts either way. So which way will I?


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