Thoughts with my shirt off

I had my shirt off twice today. The first time was at the doctor’s for a check-up on my chest. As expected it was all good despite me neglecting my medication. I’m fit, healthy and ready to go. The second time was as I undressed for a massage by my myotherapist. He’s a young, fit looking character with whom I’ve built a casual rapport. Later as he massaged me he asked about the little bruises fading across my shoulders and chest. I wondered for a moment how I would answer before decifing to be honest. “They’re lovebites” I told him.

I had lunch after with my mum and did some shopping down the street. I walked home in my heavy jacket warding off the chill of the day and on my return sat down at my desk to continue the hard driving tasks I have set myself. It’s not always the way, but this afternoon I was focussed and unwavering.I ground through the work like a mower through a lawn.

All throughout there is a part of my mind ruminating on what I had read earlier in the day. As is my custom I had woken, made my coffee, fed Rigby, then returned to bed to read. This morning it was literary essays by J. M. Coetzee; last week it was the erudite and sprawling essays of Clive James. I delight in both, in learning, in discovering things I didn’t know causing me to question and to head off in my own direction. I love that such intellectual discourses can exist, love that it matters, at least to some. I love how reading these things enriches my own life at least in those moments, love how the variety of perspectives portrayed leads me to wonder at my own. In the end what remained deepest in my mind though was what this said about me.

I am very aware of my physical self. I’ve always had that physical sense of the world. I may argue that the vital essence of me is my mind, this perspective that lays out the words across the page now – but it is not an argument I’ve ever felt convinced by. I’ve not ever been able to separate that self from the body in which it resides. Much of that is pure vanity. I like being large and well put together; I often wonder how different it would be if I was small and wan. Laying on the massage table I felt stupidly proud at the imposing shape I have worked myself into. Shaving myself this morning I peered into the mirror and thought, well, you’re no oil painting H, but you do look impressive. Even the bruises on my shoulders and chest in some way speak of me.

It seems silly, but at times it seems difficult to reconcile that with my other self – or selves. I’m older now of course, there is the odd grey hair, but I look like an ex-ruck rover, or maybe a retired light heavyweight boxer, nose unbroken. I retain that physical presence, matched by a robust personality. Once more, it’s a ridiculous prejudice, but it sometimes feels at odds with who I am inside. These are stereotypes I should know better than believe, but while I have the attitude of a bigger man I think sometimes that I have a sensibility more akin to the small and wan.

People don’t associate the bruiser with higher thoughts and elevated feelings. I don’t look like a bruiser as such, there is some sophistication and elegance in my bones – but I’m certainly not the ascetic, fine boned intellectual type. Nor should I be really. I take as much pleasure in the physical and the sensual as I do the intellectual. They are all together the stuff of life.

It’s really a nonsense to judge a book by it’s cover, or even to think the cover can tell you too much. That’s our conceit even as we know that the real story is bound between the covers. We make judgements, we revert to stereotypes, our mind skips ahead taking short-cuts when we’re better served to pay closer attention.

I wiped my face clean and put my shirt back on. Funny the things that pass through your mind when you’re shaving.




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