I own you by destroying you

I went to the Sydney Writers Festival two months ago where I attended a talk by Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life. Her book is currently sitting on my dining table waiting to be read but, based on the audience reaction at the conference, it’s a book that’s struck a chord with a lot of people. When talking about one of her characters, she said something I had to scribble down in my little notebook – something about “owning the body by destroying it.” I haven’t read the book so I’m only going on what I remember her speaking about but somehow it’s stuck in my mind since then.

There’s something wonderfully nihilistic about saying, ‘Screw you, body, you’re mine now but I don’t need you. I’m going to grind you into the ground with all this cutting/drugs/alcohol/insert your vice of choice’. Maybe that’s what my thing is. I’d always thought I drank and did drugs just for fun of it but is that ever really all that it’s about? Do we do it because there’s some part of ourselves we can’t stand and want to silence and/or obliterate?

In A Little Life, the main character has been through some kind of major trauma. I think it’s something sexual from their childhood and now they cut, maybe there’s some drug addiction involved (again I haven’t read the book so I only picked up bits and pieces here and there throughout the talk and it was a few months ago now). It made me think that when someone invades your space, it can take a long time to feel like your body is your own again. You hate the sight of it and you want to put distance between yourself and the damaged sack of meat that went through that ordeal. It wasn’t me, you say. It was just this body, this thing that I live in. This thing that now belongs to the person (or people) who wronged you. It’s as if you can see their fingerprints all over your skin, smudged into places they had no to right to be.

And so you begin the long process of reclaiming yourself, which everyone deals with in different ways. Maybe I’m still in self-destruct mode sometimes. Maybe I’m trying to own my body by destroying it just a little bit at a time each weekend. And if that’s the case, then this weekend’s going to be a doozy because we’re going to a three day music festival where there’ll be plenty of opportunity to self destruct. My goal is just not to black out, which seems like a reasonable goal but doesn’t always pan out for me.

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