Some new bodies to try this week

I’d been feeling crappy for weeks — not sick enough to take off work, but just sick enough to work slowly and badly. Thursday I finally decided to do something about it, and what happened was a remarkable development in this Year of Living Plurally: I ended up in a new and better body.

“Welcome fragrance”

Thursday morning, to my surprise and delight, I got a new body, a much better one, for just 168 American dollars. An amazing bargain, even considering the mileage on it. This model is many thousands of years old, from what I’ve heard — I haven’t dug into the documentation yet — but even after all the millennia, it still has that intoxicating new-body smell.

And I can smell it, too — a blissful return to form after weeks of nasal congestion. Three days in, this novel nose is performing as well as any I’ve had in years, thanks to my new body’s ingenious surface interface. About a quarter-inch down and out from each of my new nostrils, invisible to the untrained eye, is a tiny button that, when pressed in just the right way, dramatically recalibrates the olfactory machinery inside.

I was lying face-up in my underwear on a warm table in a warm room in a little building in Northeast Minneapolis, spangled with tiny needles, when the technician showed me how the nose-buttons worked. After a few moments of warmth and tingling, the distinct perfumes of my deodorant, and the technician’s different deodorant, became delightfully apparent.

“Jason,” I marveled. “I can smell again!”

“That one is called ‘Welcome Fragrance,’” Jason said, nodding with serene expertise. He meant the button.

“Welcome fragrance,” I murmured, happily welcoming fragrance. This new body even came with poetry.

An accidental paradigm shift

I didn’t start Thursday intending to get a whole new body — I was just bringing my old clunker to a new shop for some badly needed troubleshooting.

For weeks I’d been feeling almost sick — stuffy nose, dry cough, mild aches, low energy, fuzzy brain — without ever progressing to symptoms dramatic enough to make my boss, who can be kind of an asshole sometimes, let me take a sick day. Wednesday, finally, my boss agreed to gibe me Thursday morning off — to “take care of the bronchitis, or whatever it is,” as he put it supportively, “that’s making you so mopey and forgetful.”

A word about “my boss”

I am self-employed. In this Year of Living Plurally, the committee of voices in my head who supervise my business factory have organized themselves into the composite CEO of Ash Chudgar, the parent company of Chudgar Consulting and Partsland, LLC. More on that experiment, and the business legend who inspired it, in another newsletter.

But how? I knew what would happen if I went to the doctor’s office or the urgent care. Probably a virus, they’d say, swipe my HSA card and send me home — or else refer me to some expensive specialist in a faraway suburban office park, who would do the same series of things in the same order. In the best case, modern medicine would guess my illness might be bacterial and give me antibiotics, which (if they guessed right) would truly might make me feel better fast, though at the cost of decimating my poor gut bacteria and giving me a week of the runs.

All of that rigmarole would be expensive and time-consuming, and for what? My body would probably stay sick, and my boss would definitely stay mad.

Then I remembered something a client had told me — acupuncture, they’d said, had changed their life. Why not try that? Many parts of me found the whole idea rather alarming — needles, woo-woo lore, showing a stranger our body, what if it hurts, etc. But this grinding semi-illness was so uncomfortable, and our work was suffering so markedly, that we were willing to try anything. What the hell, we decided collectively. After a half-hour of googling around, we booked an appointment with the gentlest-seeming acupuncturist in the neighborhood who had a Thursday morning opening.

In my mind, going in, I was just going to see a different kind of healthcare provider — a very specialized practitioner, perhaps, but an ordinary medical body-mechanic no more exotic than a oral surgeon or an osteopath.

Instead, the acupuncturist diagnosed and treated a body I did not know I had, a new-to-me body I now get to have for my very own.

What it was like to change bodies

I pride myself on paying careful attention to what people tell me, particularly in medical matters. (The Professor, the part of me who runs my intellectual side, enjoys fancy medical terminology.) But Jason’s patient explanations for what ailed me might as well have been Chinese, which not a few technical terms literally were.

Nothing he said during the appointment applied to the bronchitis-having body I had hauled into the clinic — the same patient’s body that doctors and nurses had been diagnosing, repairing, and medicating on my behalf for 44 years. Over the course of 90 minutes, that old body dissolved and this new one took its place — transubstantiated at a level too deep to be visible, like water into blood at Mass.

There was no talk of viruses or bacteria. No diseases were named; there was no scolding. Jason asked me many questions in words, to which I replied in words; numbers — weight, blood pressure, triglycerides — were conspicuously absent. And the questions he asked were so strange and unexpected I had to answer them honestly, because I simply did not know what a healthy and responsible person, a good patient, was supposed to say. Do I prefer liquids hot, lukewarm, or cold? At what times of day do I sweat? When I drink water, do I sip or guzzle? What is the general character of my dreams?

So far as I can remember, this is how he introduced my new body to me, in the context of its current symptoms:

  • A warm and drying wind had invaded my system some weeks ago.
  • This invasion exacerbated the desiccating influences of certain lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, and fasting most of the day), which caused chronic deficiencies of yin and blood.
  • These factors were evident on the surface of my new tongue, which is apparently a sort of information display. So are these wrists, where the texture of the veins (“slippery” on the left and “wiry” on the right) encodes further data.
  • The needles, meanwhile, were drawing drawing qi to specific surface buttons (Jason called them “points”) wired into the parts of my body that were suffering from the warm and windy invasion. He wiggled them to draw the qi to the buttons, which I could feel vividly and unmistakably, like tiny electric shocks.
  • The qi, in its turn, would urge yin and blood to the places in my new body where they were deficient. Herbs, which Jason carefully chose by paging through a printed pharmacopeia, would support the yin and blood by moisten my insides to drive out the drying wind.

“Once we’ve knocked out this invasion,” Jason said briskly, “we’ll tackle the lifestyle stuff. And your back pain.” He sent me my way with two bottles of herbs in capsules, a post-it note of instructions about how to take them, and a follow-up appointment next week. I floated out of the little clinic in my brand-new body, tingling with hitherto unsuspected qi.

Why I like this body better

Ever since, I’ve been marveling at the sheer novelty of the body I have now.

Unlike my old body, which was basically a dissociated potato I did my best to ignore, this new acupuncture body has a nervous system for days. Even now, as the vividness of the needles has dissipated, I can feel my nerves buzzing with pleasant electricity.

My new body also has bones, a whole skeleton of cleverly interarticulated bones, much sturdier than the gelatinous blob I felt myself to be till Thursday. My new sinuses are perceptibly damp and happier, thanks not least to the dramatic effects of the herbs — which include, among other flora, both plum and chrysanthemum blossoms. For this body, flowers are medicine. My coughs are now productive, my energy is high. It doesn’t “have bronchitis,” like the passive red gel in a petri dish: no, it is skillfully parrying an invasion of drying wind with the subtle forces of yin and blood. Sometimes this new body does not even want a cigarette.

Our new body is performing so well that I’ve got permission to bring it in to Jason’s shop for service every week for the foreseeable future — a startling new development in this Year Of Living Plurally.

Some bodies to try on this week

As I discovered this week, it can be delightfully liberating to try a new body on to see how it feels and what it does. You can always go back to the body you have now if it doesn’t work out.

  • If you like your body and are very attuned to it already, you might enjoy challenging yourself by conceptualizing your embodiment in a helpfully disorienting new way. What could you feel or do if you had a different sort of body?
  • If you are uncomfortable with your body and feel safer when you’re dissociated from it, as I always have been, changing bodies can literally save your life. I think that’s true not only for trans people, but for everybody whose physical being is at odds with the truth of their soul.

You can interpret “new body” as metaphorically or as literally as you want. You can call it therapeutic make-believe, or a thought experiment about embodiment. You can also choose to believe that, since your brain is a material body-part, dramatically altering your thinking makes the body doing the thinking something ontologically different. I’m inclined to take it literally, perhaps because my Catholic upbringing makes the idea of transubstantiation comfortable and appealing. You don’t have to, though.

Here are some ideas for bodies to start with — feel free to make up your own!

1. 🧸 Mascot Body, to be kinder to yourself

In Spanish a pet is called una mascota, which derives from the same semantic lineage as our English word mascot — the fuzzy human-sized emblem who embodies the spirit of a community, like the Philly Phanatic or Goldie the Gopher. Mascots are adorable by nature, so Mascot Body can help you treat your body with greater affection and kindness.

My internal family has done just that for a few months now, and it’s been very effective. Buddy, the mascot of our body, is a cheerful golden retriever, now grizzled in the muzzle but as puppyish as ever, who smokes Marlboro menthols and is hungry all the time. It’s been a very effective practice. Now, instead of apologizing to the coffee table if I stub my toe on it, I apologize to Buddy and then to the table.

If your body were a lovable and charismatic non-human creature, the kind of mascot little kids want to run up and hug and have a plushy of, what would it be?

2. 🏔️ Landform Body, to be more chill around bugs 🐜

I’ve become much more interested in insects and spiders in recent years, though some of the younger parts of me still find stinging insects quite scary. I have learned to make my inner little ones feel more comfortable around bugs by imagining an object that is as much bigger than I am than I am bigger than the bug — a large hill or small mountain, for a small spider. That, in turn, is the scale of the body we bring to our encounters with the spider, who now seems tiny and precious. Landform Body is so massy and serene that we have even allowed spiders to walk on our hands!

When you are being bothered by a bug, make your body as big as it is to the bug and see how that feels.

3. ⛔️ Wrong Body, to learn about power

As a light-skinned person who looks cis and walks in an unremarkable way, I can pad around my neighborhood without attracting any particular bodily attention. That alone is a potent kind of power. The less I leave my neighborhood, the less my body is a problem, the more this kind of body can seem like the right of body, the normal and normative body, less a superpower than an entitlement.

I only know better because, at various times and situations, I have had very much the Wrong Body — the body that exists as a problem for other people. I’ve been a flabby and effeminate little-boy body, an smelly and effeminate tween body, a white-looking body on otherwise all-Black buses and trains, an ethnically ambiguous body at an Indian family wedding. That is how I know the Wrong Body is very uncomfortable, and it requires enormous emotional and cognitive resources to pilot through the world. And my Wrong Body isn’t even all that wrong, given the places I take it! Other kinds of bodies have it far worse in this part of the world: trans bodies, bodies of color generally, Black and Native bodies particularly, visibly disabled bodies, fat bodies, bodies who have to sleep outdoors.

It’s important for everybody to be a Wrong Body sometimes, so we don’t start thinking that our own body is the only right kind. To be clear, I don’t think you should go around trying make your body a problem for other people! Gosh no. But whenever you find yourself existing as the Wrong Body, particularly if that doesn’t happen often, it’s a good idea to remember what that feels like.

4. 👻 Ghost Body, to less problematic

From our human perspective, plants don’t seem to move at all, but on their own terms, they move quite rapidly. A time-lapse video of a wisteria vine we saw on TV once showed it whipping a tendril around like a lariat, seizing a fencepost and hauling itself up toward the sun. A movement you or I would execute in half a second takes a wisteria plant, like, half an hour — but the embodied volition is plainly the same.

Ever since we saw the wisteria show, when I sometimes imagine my body from the point of view of a houseplant or outdoor plan that I encounter — as an imperceptibly brief fluctuation in temperature and pressure, far too fast to be noticed. Ghost Body, my name for this sort of experience, is particularly soothing when I am experiencing another kind of body as painful, ugly, or otherwise hard to tolerate.

When your body feels too awkward or uncomfortable to bear, try being Ghost Body, the body you are to plants: a sudden sense of moisture at the roots, a flicker of movement and chemicals in the air.

If you try out any of these bodies, or another new one of your own, I would love to know how it goes. Just hit reply and write me back!

My new body loves getting email from friends. (So did my old body, TBH.)

Talk to you next week! I will have seen Jason again by then, so who knows what body I’ll be writing to you with next.

All our best to all of you,