Listen to the conversations of others from Somatic Experience Workshops (2013)
Listening to other people can help you understand them and yourself better.
Listen to a conversation that is happening around you. It might be someone that you know or a stranger. Choose a conversation that is about bodies, if you can. Think about the particular topic they are discussing. Consider if they are speaking candidly or secretively. Notice if they are using any particular words to describe bodies and it they are using their bodies in any particular way. Observe the responses and input from other people in the conversation. Reflect on why a person might speak about bodies in this way and what kind of constructs might underpin their ideas.
I work at a cinema that is screening a retrospective of Hong Kong action films. Saturday night was a Bruce Lee double: The Return of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon. I caught the end of the first from the projectionist’s room, and the fight scene between Bruce and Chuck Norris in the Colosseum seemed even more epic through glass. Between sessions I spoke to an older couple, patrons for the evening, and learned that they’d come to the cinema for the first time in years to see the Bruce Lee films. I made a passing comment about the splendour of the final scene, and the woman commented on the sheer muscle definition of Bruce’s body compared to the solid, woolly chunk of Chuck’s torso. I smiled and, expressing a sentiment similar to hers, commented on how handsome he was. She immediately objected to this. It was a jarring, mortifying moment. She went on to explain: “He’s a bit too dark.” I must have looked totally wide-eyed and could only manage an “Oh!” She casually said that she travelled the world when young, and that through sheer life experience, she has come to know that “dark men” harass white women. She gestured to her husband, who was sitting silently by her side, and told me that she prefers fair men. The constant harassment, she said, really puts you off “them.” I realise that she must have seen me as a young white woman and felt that she could speak to me in confidence. I told her that I am half-Asian and I that I would have to disagree with her. She smiled and said, as politely as ever, “Oh, of course, it’s all subjective.”
One of my favourite things is listening in to other people’s conversations, which has led me to be incredibly paranoid about other people listening to mine, especially on public transport, in case someone like me is sitting nearby.?Listening out to hear something specifically body related, or for something that compromised the body was not as easy as thought. Out for dinner one night, I was casually listening to what was happening at the table nearby as the waitress taking their order and was quite loud (making listening in difficult not to do). At the table were a young couple, the waitress apparently recognised the man from high school and excitedly greeted him with a kiss on the cheek and half hug over the table, she then proceeded to try and hug the girlfriend, who clearly didn’t want to hug but awkwardly half stood up to receive the hug, but then couldn’t quite stand up as she was on an immovable bench seat and the table was too close to allow her to stand fully. It’s hard to explain how awkward this interaction was. Added to this, listening to their talking it was clear the waitress had never met the girlfriend before but had initiated this weird semi-hug thing anyway, when a handshake or polite nod of meeting would probably have sufficed. Especially when it then turned out that the waitress and the man hadn’t seen each other in quite some time and didn’t actually seem close at all, the waitress made some comment that he looked really different, commenting on the well groomed hair (I’m not sure now if I added this detail in my head but I got the feeling he may have lost some puppy fat post-high school). She also asked how long they’d been together and I think it was three years! So they were clearly people who were not in touch with each other. Anyway he was a nice looking guy, who I got the impression was just average (or worse) looking in high school, the waitress had the feeling of someone who may have been popular but is now just waitressing (without some redemptive side career, maybe I’m getting too judgmental?), and the girlfriend was quite lovely looking (which I think bothered the waitress).
I feel like in the minute or two of awkward interaction taking the order there was quite a bit of compromising of the various bodies; the waitress commenting on the man’s former physique, then leading the girlfriend into an unnecessary and awkward not quite standing hug, plus the tension of the waitress being in a serving role but still having the power to make the pair uncomfortable.
Notes found on the train.
I went to visit my mum and she told me how she was having a fissure cut out of her anus. We spent a while talking about how people get them and how people get rid of them. We were wondering how she would have to lay during the operation. Would she need a special cushion afterwards like with haemorrhoids? She told me about this cream they use to treat fissures where you squirt an inch of cream up your anus. The way that it works is that it contracts all the blood vessels. The pain is relieved but it carries the medicine all the way to the brain. It causes severe headache because the blood vessels contact there as well.
Mum said the doctor told her that the best way to not get a fissure is to do a solid poos to keep your anus nice and stretchy. Soft ones will tighten it up too much, so that when you do have a solid one it may tear your anus a bit.
I shared all of this information with my friend over coffee. The man at the next table commented to his companion that he could remember why they had come in to the cafe in the first place.
Somatic Experience Workshops (2013) promoted discussion about bodies by experimenting with each participant’s attentiveness to their individual bodily experience and the experiences of others. The workshops ran for a six week period with weekly group meetings. Participants received a take home task to complete in their own time. Each participant was given the opportunity to share and reflect on their experience of the task during the meetings. Tasks included using a netipot, focused attentiveness, bodily enjoyment and observing bodily experiences of others. Participants were asked to document or respond to their experience in the form of a still image and/or written response. These responses can be read here.
The workshops were held during Leena’s residency at LEVEL ARI’s Residency Program, at Metro Arts from July-September 2013. The outcomes of the workshops were exhibited at the end of the residency at the exhibition More Human in October 2013.
Thank you to all of the participants who completed the workshops, LEVEL ARI and Metro Arts.