Love Your Body Conference, Knox College, February 24-26, 2006

On the way there

We’re in traffic right now so watching the scenery pass to The Decemberists is not a very inspirational prospect. We’re driving to Knox College in Illinois for the Love Your Body Conference (hosted by SASS- Students Against Sexism in Society). We = me, Anat, Rachel, and Julie.

Friday evening

In campus housing- as in, a real house, not dorms- at Knox College. Too tired and weird to hang out late, so I’m by myself, god willing, for the longest stretch of time all day, and probably until Sunday evening.*

I realized this is all about my introversion, this thing I had previously dubbed a phobia of crowds (must look at phobiaslist.com**). There is fear, but I now see much of that as just overstimulation. I learned in Social Psychology that introverts are highly sensitive, hence the tendency to shy away from social settings and to prefer more alone, controlled environments.

The noise of a crowd disrupts me- it kind of hurts. I look down because there’s too much to look at above floor level. My brain will freeze up, as though in a panic, hence the misattribution, but really because I’m taking in entirely too much to be able to process or output. I can’t think and I am quiet and awkward when I do talk. They think I’m shy but I’m just in shock. And then I get tired. And I must leave.

So I left, which was unfortunate because I was having fun. A great group of people, both alien and familiar, kicking off the Love Your Body Conference (hosted by SASS- Students Against Sexism in Society).

Everyone’s excited about us, the out-of-towners, the Antioch students. It began with a photography exhibit, an amazing display of something like 60 female Knox students who chose which parts of their bodies they wanted to show for the camera.

Then we settled a bit into our housing- i.e., couches- then headed to another house, where the open mic/party was held. The dress code- “wear what makes you feel good.” Done. If they’d wanted “feel hot” well that would have been another story and entirely improbable with what I’ve brought. But it wasn’t, it was “feel good”, so I was golden.

(Oh but not before a trip to their amazing library. I want fireplaces and rooms like that in my college library. What the fuck.)

Some amazing poetry read- Audre Lorde, Alix Olson (impressive-as-fuck off-book performance), etc., and some live music- a duo of folkie hippie guitar boys (in a good way), and The Pirates- sea shanty version of Row Row Row Your Boat? I was in carnivalesque-performance-nerd heaven.

Shortly after that was when I left. Just too much. I was beginning to fog over. Now I’m a little more alert, but not enough to read for class on Monday, sadly. I’ve been up since 7, give me a break, which is 6 this time.

We’re very close to active train tracks. I kind of prefer them more in the distance, like they were in Lincoln, a far-off, castaway sound. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it means I don’t want to jump on one, after all.

The question is- this weekend anyway- the question is, Do I love my body? The look of it, the function of it, what? I certainly don’t hate it. I might need some more specific questions. The outside, the inside? Would it be bad if I concluded that I can’t love it because it treats me so poorly sometimes? Can I pity it? For being in pain, in such bad shape? Can I love it at the same time, for those times it comes through for me and I feel, for brief moments, what people without chronic pain and fatigue must feel? Can I love it for different reasons, for the way it makes me feel so nice sometimes, my nerve endings sending wonderful messages to my sensitive, sensate-driven brain? Am I allowed to have a more complex relationship with my body, or do my feelings toward it need to be absolute, unequivocal?

I think I should view this weekend through this lens in particular, the “state” lens. Shake things up a bit.

*I was right.
**Demophobia or ochlophobia.

Saturday

Movement workshop

Saturday began with the option of a voice or movement workshop. I took movement, because I’ve done a lot of voice stuff at Antioch but not too much movement. It was a basic workshop, because it was open to all, and it ended up being a lot of stuff I’ve done in theatre classes or workshops: name movements and passing the movement and impulse change. The theme of the workshop was body awareness, taking the time to listen to our bodies and give them what they need, particularly during times when we normally don’t, head-ridden end-of-the-term type times.

The last two exercises, however, were new to me. We worked with a partner- mine was Megan, who lives with Mercedes, the girl hosting us that the other three know from the Comparative Women’s Studies In Europe Program. I had walked over with her- the others were doing the voice workshop.

The first was an impulse, stretch-based, eyes-closed rolling around on the floor thing. First on our own, then with our partner, who was to observe us and make sure we didn’t bump into anyone else or get led astray: our guardian angel. Then the observer shared what they saw: I curl up a lot (yay fetal position), don’t wander too much (too paranoid, guardian angel or not), and my hot pink nails catch attention.

The last was a massage exercise, a “rolling the dough with oven mitts” thing. Amazing. Indescribable. That’s coming back with me.

The woman who ran it was Jennifer. I thanked her afterward, telling her I was a visitor from another school and that I’d be taking back the massage thing. She said she’d enjoyed watching me move, and that she’d been hoping to convince me to take a class with her (I believe she used the term “rope in”)- thinking I was a Knox student she just didn’t know. It was really nice to hear that. Made me wish I’d taken more movement classes at Antioch, but alas. Definitely something to look into post-graduation, wherever I am.

Lunch

Then we all met back up again- not before getting the Old-Main Lincoln-and-Douglas-debate history lesson from Megan and a peek inside the locked building- and had lunch at their caf. You know, no other college has ever made me wish I’d gone somewhere else, probably because I could never see myself going to a place like Wright State or OSU, but I kind of got that here. Because it feels a lot like Antioch, only bigger (1200ish students) and more diverse. Small is great, but more resources are, too.

Self-defense workshop

Then to the self-defense workshop, run by Erin Weed of Girls Fight Back. Her story of her friend’s murder and her subsequent change of a life’s mission brought together all the events and revisited psychological trauma from the last few weeks of my own life. So I was all about it. Plus Erin was engaging as hell- funny, personable, accessible, and connectable.

We learned a lot of basic moves, plus some tips on “casing our own joint” and “being a bad victim”. She made The Book Of Cool a few times:
– She thought to herself after her first self-defense workshop: “I am so dangerous!”
– On approaching dangerous situations somewhat normally: “I try to work with social norms.”
– Teaching us to “aim for disability” but to know when to stop: “That gets illegal after a while.”

Gaylesburg, Ill.

We had two hours before the next event so we walked to town. How exciting! It was, actually. I’m all about new places, new towns, different marks of civilizations, ways of life, contrasting and comparing, all that. It was cold (windy) as fuck, so we stopped at the first coffeeshop we saw for a hot drink and some warm indoor time, then to Cornucopia, the local natural-foods market, then Dollar General. Headed back to campus where we laughed and pondered about what the reaction would be to my turban plus Dollar General bag of maxi-pads and Alka-seltzer. (Hey, gotta stock up for being stuck in Yellow Springs again!)

Larry Kirkwood

The next event was a lecture by Larry Kirkwood, a sculpture artist whose primary medium is body casting. He spoke about his mission, which is to attempt to break down society’s “genderization” and obsession with “beauty”. He branched out into other societal power structures, hitting upon sexism as well as racism, ageism, ableism, weightism, and heightism. One critique I had was his total lack of acknowledgment of queer or class oppression. While I understand his focus on oppressive systems that were often carried out through bodily appearances, his branching out into areas related but more pervasive demanded at least mention of other forms of discrimination, I thought.

I also, at first, found his talk to be really simplistic, but then I stepped back from my privileged position of awareness. Though basic, most of his observations were spot-on. He was accessible and would be to an extremely wide range of people and backgrounds, and would probably not alienate many who aren’t as “aware” or “progressive”. I thought about how many schools he traveled to, and how much he might have to tone down his lecture even more for them.

I also appreciated his locating himself several times, particularly with the clause that he wished he could be up there talking to us solely because of his talent and skill, not because he was a white guy, how that’s insulting to him and unfair to us.

Queen Sheba and Georgia Me

Food again and then the slam poets: Queen Sheba and Georgia Me. Phenomenal, both of them. Highly politically-charged, personal and personable, inclusive, funny and engaging. I really liked how I both was given insight into their experiences as black women, different from my own as a white woman, but also connecting with them on states like poverty (i.e., Queen Sheba’s “Roaches”). I bought both their CDs. It really made me want to do spoken word again, but I don’t think I’m built for it.

Conclusion

Our collective exhaustion forced us to miss the final events, folk music by Kristin Lems on Saturday evening and Yoga on Sunday morning. We did, however, go to the brunch, of course, on Sunday morning, where we all went around and stated our names and our favorite body part (mine’s my belly). But we had to get back to Antioch as quickly as possible, so we said our goodbyes and drove off into the afternoon.

Resources

  • Knox College
  • Love Your Body Conference
  • SASS- Students Against Sexism in Society)
  • Comparative Women’s Studies In Europe Program
  • Erin Weed of Girls Fight Back
  • Larry Kirkwood
  • Queen Sheba
  • Georgia Me
  • Kristin Lems
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