Mind over matter

ter Much like days I have woken up in an unfamiliar hotel with the throw-up taste of  regret and old beer in my mouth, I wake up on a Sunday morning in Montreal with hazy reservations and a sense of other-ness from the me who has made the choices immediately preceding this day. “Shut up, shut up, do you know what time it is?” I hiss at a pair of girls in the dorm who are loudly chatting about what time their plane departs and whether or not they can switch their flight. I gain a few more hours of fitful sleep and get up for the continental breakfast at the hostel, served by an Irish bartender, a Spanish receptionist and a Puerto Rican cook in a French Canadian city. I want to be full, but not uncomfortably so. After breakfast I walk up to Provigo and buy Gatorade and an egg salad wrap and a chocolate bar and orange juice. I’m pleased with myself for fumbling through the entire transaction en francaise instead of lapsing into English, and I’m pleased to have the perfect ‘energy’ foods for the blood sugar crash ahead. I want to be hydrated and in peak physical and mental form. I’m on my way to a bright, airy third floor studio on Mont Royal to have large gauge hooks resembling fish hooks strung through the skin of my shoulder blades, be lifted off the ground and to dangle there. Why? I’m not totally sure.

I’ve sought extremes in almost every avenue of my life. Nico tells me, “You awaken the hunger crazed goblin in me that just wants to experience life at its most raw form,” and I’m flattered silly. I’m really striving for this way of experiencing my life full contact, immersing myself into this world of possibility and sensation and wonder. Music, books, writing, fighting, cooking, travelling, night time drives and foolish love and all of the follies I can commit. “I feel like myself,” usually means some sort of bad choices are imminent, fur coats and lime green wigs and bottles of contraband tequila that spill onto the velour couch of the karaoke lounge. Its physical, too. I love tattoos and piercing and scarification, as may be evidenced by looking at my body. While many of my piercings no longer survive, the scars are evident, and evil unicorn tattoos speak to my impulsivity. I sat for an hour and a half for a scarification piece on my back seven years ago- I remember how it felt waiting, I remember the mental clarity and negotiation. I remember the adrenaline trembles and, afterward, the curious lightness and feeling of being present- I have reconciled my body and my mind and come through to this new understanding. I have a 0g conch that was done using a tool like a biopsy punch- I can remember coming up with new swears as my piercer was forced to use a scalpel to separate a flap of flesh that hadn’t come free.

On New Years Day my mom and I participated in our gym’s usual New Years workout- a mile run, followed by a hundred sit-ups, two hundred push-ups and three hundred squats, followed up by another mile run. In extreme cold temperatures of -13, before windchill. We finish and we pack into our cars and drive through a white-out blizzard to Grand Valley, where a very small handful of us from the gym are participating in the Polar Dip, a fundraising activity for the local Lion’s Club. I loathe cold more than anything in the world. The mental agony of huddling outside in the cold while volunteers cleared ice from the hole sawed through 9″ of river ice was tremendous. Finally, the horn sounded and the participants plunged into the frigid Grand River, climbing out of the ice pit via aluminium ladders that stuck to our cold, wet hands and feet. It was a strange moment of feeling almost unbearably high- endorphin survival mode kicks in, and I had laser eyes for my pile of warm clothes, layering on a housecoat, fuzzy leggings, jeans, sweater and huge fluffy socks and jacket. I was cold for days after the plunge, and a friend with pretty god damn near to zero percent body fat might still be feeling the freeze.

Sometimes (many times) have worked schedules that are absolutely inane, both mentally and physically. I’ve gotten up at 4:30 a.m to jog the 5 km to the horse farm, muck 20 stalls, ride 3 horses, jog the 5 km back and get changed to go and work an 8 hour shift on my feet as a line cook. Fucking insanity. I’ve swam competitively and biked 40 km a day and mucked stalls and ridden horses and played roller derby (the last time I can remember being thin!) I have punished my body, severely, in attempts to keep it slender and strong. I finished a treeplant season which I initially resented, as, I don’t like doing things I’m mediocre at. On a planting day where I exceed 2600 seedlings in the ground, with the worst party hangover ever, I’m pleasantly surprised. I flex, topless, in the hotel room that night, dirty, rats nest hair, pants falling down. “Treeplant fat camp,” I send my mom, ignoring the pure strength and willpower that it takes to accomplish something this ridiculous, hungover, moving through uncleared alder thicket and swamp, bending over every 7 feet and cutting the ground with a spade, stomping the hole shut, never mind the blackfly swarms and the lunatic mosquito hordes and the deerflies who are repelled by absolutely nothing, not even the 30+ percent DEET obtained illegally from the states.

I let my body stop me from a lot of things. We have a complicated relationship. I’ll place an opportune pillow on my lap if I’m sitting on a couch somewhere, as if that is somehow less conspicuous than my gut. I’ll weigh myself eight times a day and pinch and prod and lace and suck in and slap, and my body is still what it is, varicose veins broken on my calves and behind my knees. “What the actual fuck,” I think, looking at the scale. Its fucking inconceivable. I eat healthy, I work out, more than most people I know. Why is this so? Why is my metabolism such an absolutely massive cunt. I go out with my peers, who throw back pints and dozens of chicken wings and burgers. “I can’t, I can’t,” I say, and it’s true, I just can’t afford that kind of decadence. I’m an optimistic size 10 and I TRY, I TRY so fucking hard, it just isn’t fair. I achieve something resembling slender, when I workout ten hours a day and don’t have time to eat. When I work for it, the closest I seem to get is “chubby but not obese, fat knees, giant boobs”. I’m 25 pounds lighter than I was three years ago at the end of the debacle that was my time living in Toronto, and I feel it and look it, but am still absurdly insecure. It shouldn’t matter, if I look at my capability to spend nights with really absurdly good looking young men and women. We eat and drink and talk and laugh and touch, and I’m still conscious of my body. How to tuck the tummy away or wear high-waisted pants or how to do a face full of makeup perfection to draw attention away. I score above myself each and every time, in my opinion, and am pleasantly surprised. “Well, you’ve just had a prom date with somebody verging on Calvin Klein attractive levels,” I think. “You’re not completely grotesque and repugnant, I suppose.” Still, every second of every day, I am pinching, poking, prodding fat, sneaking furtive glances in any available mirror and sucking in my gut at every waking moment.

The girl who is on the schedule before me for the suspension cries out during the piercing and lies still. She struggles through getting off the table, holding her shoulders still and stiff and moving in tiny, mincing steps. After a glucose tab and a couple of faint-y episodes in which she sits upon a folding chair, the hooks protruding from her shoulders linked into the rigging that hangs from the rafters, braced by a gregarious and kind young man wearing something resembling a rock climbing harness, she gets off the ground. “Down, down, down!” she cries out, immediately, and she calls it a day. She is cut from the rigging. This is pure bravery- she has struggled through every aspect of the experience, but she has achieved it, she has made it off the ground, she has said, “No!” to that which would have had her quit before even achieving lift off. Still, I am concerned. Will I struggle? Will I vomit, will I black out, will I slip out the door before it is even my time?

“Your turn!” the facilitator calls out, cheerily, and I sort of wobble my way over to the piercing table. As they pinch and pull at my skin, feeling for the best place to pierce, I’m not really there. “That seems like a huge chunk of flesh,” I can’t help but think. “Eh, the Polar Dip was worse,” another part of my brain reassures me. From my teen years, the sterile antiseptic smell of alcohol and sterilizing spray and the tray of piercing instruments laid out on blue surgical paper is weirdly reassuring. Two nostrils, a septum, two vertical labrets, a medusa, multiple nipples, a bridge, an eyebrow, an anti eyebrow. Multitudes of truly painful tattoo sessions and scarification pieces and large gauge piercings. Surely I know how to do this.



So I lie, face down, and summon something that repels panic. On the count of three, both shoulders are pierced. I carry all of my tension in my shoulders and have thick, knotted muscles and terse, thick skin. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth like a demented hot yoga class, the hooks are worked into place. There are some jokes about lube, I participate. I’m thrilled- they’re in, and I haven’t vomited or blacked out. I rise from the table and approach the shower curtain duct taped underneath the rigging. It’s a weird small world, the world of more ‘extreme’ body modification. The rigging is a design by my friend Steve Haworth, who was responsible for my triskelion scarification piece between my shoulder blades. The hooks actually pierce through the triskelion. My skin pulls unpleasantly, but surprisingly unpainfully, as I start to walk back and forth on the shower curtain, gripping the arm of a piercer with an extraordinary black and violet mullet and scuffed Doc Martens. “Squeegee punks,” I think, calmed. I could be a greasy mohawked teenager again with a gorgeous bridge piercing and Value Village Doc’s. And skinny, in my pleather tights and tank top. And in a moment, on my tiptoes, I felt the weirdest sensation of pressure and sort of grunted “Ugh!” in mild panic, but before I could protest I was off the ground.

Being in the air is kind of a blur. I wish I had stayed  up longer, but I did stay up, went higher, spun around, flailed, cracked jokes. And despite the fact that I have conquered this thing in my mind and my body and gone where so few have gone before, I look at the pictures and the videos I have from Sunday and think, “Fuck, am I really that fat?” instead of “So fucking cool, I’m a strong bitch!” So I still have that to work on.

I have long had a fascination with the history of body modification and tribalism, that I don’t intend to delve into too deeply here, but as a huge fan of consciousness altering experiences and physical challenges and what we can conquer when we put mind over matter, the entire thing fascinates and delights me. My mom is an amateur MMA fighter who texts me throughout- “I imagine you’re feeling what I feel before a fight right now.” She’s right. The readying, the reconciliation of pain with payoff and the capability to handle it.  Big, big thank you to the team at Montreal Suspension Group for facilitating so professionally. Your team is truly amazing.

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