Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tactile Meditations on the Interiority of the Heart

Eleven ounces, approximately the size of one's fist, the heart belongs to the world beneath the skin. The invisible territory, the absence, the hidden interior that is the scaffold allowing us to be.  We see ourselves, each other, from the outside. Eyes, hands, lips, hair. We speak, come together, and part ways only  to speak, come together, and part ways once again, our exteriority taking precedence, our outsides dwelling together, touching in a space between us that is only possible because of the interior, even if we don't notice it (for why would we?) as we move through our days.

Elizabeth Grosz likens our corporeality to a mobius strip. If we stop to trace our bodies we discover we are interior to exterior to interior to exterior. One continuous infinite loop. For where is that boundary, the delineation between inside and out? My heart beats beneath my rib cage; it is hidden. And yet I feel my pulse on the outside when I press my fingers to my wrist.

The interior. If we forget it or don't acknowledge it often, for it certainly deserves our continual respect and recognition, perhaps it is  because seeing most often means something has gone wrong. A fall breaks a bone and the bone rips through the skin. A knife slips, a finger is cut, blood flows, a tendon is glimpsed. Seeing the inside or representing the internal, whether it be organs, muscle, bone, blood, may be considered morbid, grotesque. Respectable representations are repetitions of our exteriors. But our skins are what they are precisely because of the insides. The interior shapes us, makes us tall, stout, broad shouldered, slim. Our skins service our interiors, keep them packaged up, neat, safe. Is it too much to think of the exterior (if only in a moment of poetic reverie) as a continuous embrace that cares for that wonderful flowing world made of intricate pathways and inlets, that place where wild highways of capillaries, arteries, and veins twist and swing about, where in the depths of the interior neurons and electric life continually move, in that hidden world where aveoli trees open to receive the exterior even as we sleep?

The exterior becomes interior becomes exterior once again. Represent the inside or the outside, but remember they are a continual dance. And notice when the interior is approached with the intensity of an artist enthralled, the interior--even the torn open corpse--rumbles in gorgeous muscularity and form. Artists who have done this, who have succeeded in ripping open, divulging, without landing in the merely or reductively grotesque are Hyman Bloom, Chaim Soutine, and the younger, still alive Jenny Saville. There are others, of course, and their representations are worth more than a quick glimpse, for in such hands paint reveals what Adorno refers to as the "shudder" in reference to Soutine. The shudder, the tremor, that is an energetic interior bursting forth in richness. The rich complexity that we human animals along with other inhabitants are.

And now, in this moment, when I think of the human heart, of my own, of that surprisingly small muscle upon which I rely, I stop in the history of it--not merely the 39 years of its individual life, but of the hearts of other animals and ken that led to this four-chambered one of now. And going further, I remember the stars. I envision eleven ounces of stardust. I think of the stardusted interior that feeds the  ones I see as I move through my days, their skins not merely skins, but infinitely rich coverings that envelope the seemingly hidden shudders within.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Four Miles In and One Year Later

Four miles and several hours into the Smokies, at the end of an often steep, exhausting hike we sit at the foot of a waterfall with all the others who, like us, made it this far, kept going despite--and probably in spite of--the heat, the humidity, the unexpected incline, the precarious twists and turns, and the sheer calf-burning labor of stepping over and around the hard, shiny tree roots twisting themselves jagged and claw-like along the path. I once again silently give thanks to the smiling strangers we passed along the way--those on their way down saying it's worth it, keep going, you're almost there, just a little bit longer. My muscles ache, my clothes are soaked with sweat, but I made it. I am here. I lie back on the sun-heated stones and see the trees--their furry pine green and olive bodies arched over and pushed up against the bowl that is the sky.

Yes, I am here.

A year ago at this same time I couldn't yet make it up a flight of stairs. My days were marked by painkillers, naps, fear, nightmares, worry, hyper-vigilance, shock, and the stunned faces of friends coming to visit me for the first time after my heart and its unanticipated detour took us all by surprise.

A year ago, I would have been hard pressed to believe I would once again hike up mountains, that I would go off in the woods and off the grid where my cell phone was nothing more than a useless gadget and doctors were out of reach. But here I am. And I am exactly where I want to be. And though my body is a mystery and though I cannot see the inner workings of my heart or monitor it in the way I can look at the details of my face in the mirror every morning, it is resilient. As I close my eyes and breathe, I am reminded of this again, just as I was reminded that first day I walked into cardiac rehab and stepped on the treadmill and didn't collapse, but met my body at a new intersection and realized it was possible for me to rely on her again. And as I breathe I see myself, my body, in the world--the raw, material flesh of it that is in and of and also itself the world.

"Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it is caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself. Things are an annex or prolongation of itself; they are incrusted into its flesh, they are part of its full definition; the world is made of the same stuff as the body." *

Visible, I am seen: a body among other mammals seeing, being, feeling, as we rest together at the top of a mountain taking in our rewards. Visible, but paradoxically always invisible to myself too (my insides, my heart, my lungs, the intricate world beneath the skin) I move through and with this invisibility, becoming a circle with myself and the things and others I experience around me--the trees pushing back against the sky, John next to me on rocks, the cadence of the waterfall's notes, a lone cloud drifting past a single, bare-armed tree. And I take these things in, hold them tight, allow them to become part of me in this moment a year later. And, of course, part of me again as I write of that day when back home and on the grid I remember the steps and bodies that brought me to now.

"There is a human body when, between the seeing and the seen, between touching and the touched, between one eye and the other, between hand and hand, a blending of some sort takes place ..." *

Yes, there is a human body when:

(Quotations from Maurice Merleau-Ponty's The Primacy of Perception)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Study explores PTSD among women heart attack survivors

Women heart attack survivors may be as psychologically traumatized as victims of violence
health By Heart Sisters , on 25 July 2010, 08:22
Canadian study describes surviving a heart attack "as if you're in a bank during a holdup." Many heart attack survivors experience frequent nightmares, flashbacks, and a constant reliving of the fear, helplessness and horror of having a heart attack. Continue reading »