My skin has been aging. It’s getting that thin parchment paper look that I remember when my parents got older. When I look at the onion skin on the top of my hand I immediately think of my father. I’m not alarmed. I play with this loose skin the same joyous way I grasp the tiny fresh finger buds on my baby grandchildren.
Skin is the covering of the soul. It is not immortal yet it is valuable as the body’s first line of defence. Humans carry almost 4 kilograms of skin, making it the biggest organ in the body. A soft exoskeleton to be sure yet it protects us from chemical and biological invasion. Early concerns for our skin came after a ‘Booboo’ or an ‘Owie’. A simple skinned knee often caused a rush of welcomed attention as we were attended to by loving hands. We watched with wonder as a scab formed. Some of us learned to develop a thicker skin to repel hurtful words.
I used to hate being called a skinflint, but if you want to have skin in the game you have to acquire a level of toughness. We embellished stories of how we survived by the skin of our teeth. Maybe we later grinned in the mirror to see if there actually was skin on them. And maybe that’s why we brushed!
And what’s the skinny on mule skinners? Such expressions and meanings we give to words can be baffling when they pop in your head as a skinny little snippet from your long ago past. My grandad used to ask me for some news with the phrase, “What’s the skinny son?” I used to own a mule skinner’s knife when I was a boy scout. I kept it in a leather holster that fastened to my belt for easy access on canoe trips. My dad referred to hard labour work he did in WWII as mule skinning, yet I’m sure he was never put in charge of a team of mules.
I have an urge to launch into a debate when someone tosses off the cliché; Beauty is only skin deep. Or the similar platitude; You can’t judge a book by its cover. I love the beauty of a person’s skin and I love the beauty of their character. The meaning and wonder of Martin Luther King Junior’s speech notwithstanding, I have a dream that we celebrate both skin and soul for the gifts that they are.
The sight of skin often brings me in for a closer examination. I was never a pudding lover as a kid, but one look at the caramel skin on a baked rice pudding drew me in for a delicious taste. I pet fruit in grocery stores. It’s something I miss as a result of Covid19 restrictions. It’s intimidating to see a sign next to the melons, ‘Please take the one you touch.’ I like to stroke a nectarine before choosing. I’ll palpate for softness on a cantaloupe skin. I can’t resist.
“He started it!” was a common phrase my sister would use against me when being confronted by our mother as she tried to deal with our latest squabble. Such scenes, with modified language, are common amongst siblings, workmates, young lovers and wedded couples alike. On the one hand it can be helpful to determine who initiated the drama. Was there aggressive intent? Was dominance or hierarchy a factor? However, the nuance behind the moment may be lost as the emotional quotient ratchets upwards; villains must be identified, victims must be protected, justice must be done. Crisis over! Anything learned? Let’s move on.
To initiate something takes courage. What is being suggested may never have been done before; with this person, at this moment, or in this particular context. It’s exciting to try something new, to follow an impulse, to venture a wish. The response may be immediate rejection, laughter, insult and isolation. Your plan for success may have been spontaneous or carefully thought out, yet still end in failure. You may have to try again another day, with another person, in another place. You may rethink the idea, or just let it pass. You may have to find satisfaction in compromise. Far better a compromise than a regret for pushing your personal agenda on the unwilling. There is always the solo option to satiate desire.
If you have garnered some support for your initiative you might feel emboldened to carry on. There is a rush that you feel when someone agrees with your suggestion. Some may give enthusiastic endorsements and your head starts to spin with the joy of acceptance. This is the point when you check with yourself to see if the encouragement you are getting is because of your position or the validity of your idea. People who are doers are rare, and that makes them powerful. Most of us say, ‘sure’ too easily. This quickness to respond to initiators may be a wish to be seen, to be loved, to be finally given that job with the office by the window. It is often too easy to give your personal power over to one more powerful. We all want to be seen, respected and accepted. No one wants to come out of an encounter feeling used.
When I was dating my wife I looked for ways in which she might initiate a conversation, an adventure, a plan. I watched to see how my initiations were perceived and reacted to. I was looking for a common acceptance of the merits of the proposal. I was pleased when neither of us dominated the role of initiator. Each of us wanted to lead in a certain context and wanted to be lead in others. The discovery of the details of this dance, as we got to know each other, led to fascinating admissions of wants, needs and future dreams. Hearing the truth like this, did make us feel free to continue trying new ways of being together. This gave us confidence that we were seeing each other’s desires as mutually important and equally as necessary.
In high school physics class I learned that light comes in a spectrum based on wavelength. Red has a longer wavelength than violet. Red is like soft, gentle swells while violet waves are the choppy ones. On a sunny day these visible electromagnetic waves come through the cut glass in my front door and spread the familiar colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet in that order, over my entrance wall.
Spectrums can be found or made in our imagination. I find thinking of spectrums useful when I’m searching to understand the range of possibilities in my world. It’s fun to play the game: ’Where are You on the Spectrum?’ For example, with Point of View: Are you more a tree or a forest person? Socially: Are you Introvert or Extrovert? Risk: Averse or Bold? Energy: Mellow or High Strung? Most personality tests are based on determining the answers to questions like these, then sorted to find your ‘type’.
I suspect fewer people are at the edges of any spectrum you can dream up in this game of finding out. Most of us will have personal qualities or preferences that put us somewhere to the left or right of the mid point. That doesn’t necessarily make us dull, just balanced. But strangely, most of us get nervous when it comes to diversity within the spectrum of humanity. We like to have things all the same and we often attempt to keep the outliers in boxes of our creation.
I belong to some online survey groups. The opening questions are intended to sort me into categories. I find myself unable to answer some of these questions because, like most people, I don’t easily fit into a binary world. In the modern marketplace, companies would love to find out who we are on a spectrum. If corporations can determine your likes and dislikes then they can create an algorithm that can match you to one of their products. To me this is another example of profiling. Police departments have been accused of racial profiling as a way to narrow their arrest protocols and Big Business regularly tries to get a handle on their customers, so that they can get easier access to their wallets.
Recent Gay Pride events highlighted the spectral nature of sexuality. The rainbow is a fitting symbol as it suggests that humans, collectively and individually are varietal. On the sex spectrum I feel more masculine than feminine and I appreciate members of the gay community stepping up and out to remind me that we are all a blend of hormones and attitudes. We all need to feel free to express ourselves in ways trivial or universal. I like yelling at ball games as much as I do crying while watching musicals. I try to vote responsibly and I have marched in solidarity for causes that acknowledge diversity. I am grateful that I live in a society that recognizes the value of inclusion.
Many colours make up the light that streams through my window. That light animates all life.